On 23 January 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its consultation on its proposed Annual Plan for 2020/2021. The consultation sets out the CMA’s proposed main objectives and priorities for the coming year.
Unsurprisingly, Brexit preparations are a significant factor influencing the CMA’s proposals for the upcoming year and it is noteworthy that the CMA has published, shortly after the Annual Plan consultation, its “EU Exit Guidance”. This focusses on the operation of EU and UK competition and consumer law processes during the Transition Period which commences later this week. Prudently, given the uncertainties we have become used to with Brexit, it is described as a “live” document subject to change.
Turning back to the Annual Plan itself, the CMA notes its expected significant increase in workload following the end of the Transition Period in early 2021. It therefore anticipates it is likely to have limited opportunities to launch major new discretionary projects over the coming year, although its existing work on digital markets, including online platforms and digital advertising, remain an on-going priority. Under its objective of “Improving Trust in Markets” the CMA states its commitment to completing existing enforcement cases and bringing new ones using its existing toolkit of powers. Pharmaceutical markets appear likely to receive particular scrutiny. Although not mentioned in the consultation, director disqualifications for breaches of competition law also seem likely to be a continued focus as we mentioned in our earlier blog 'A change of direction in director disqualification for breaches of competition law?'. The CMA also reiterates its desire for strengthened enforcement powers. Alongside regulatory action, the CMA commits to increasing its advocacy and advisory work with government and public bodies on “designing and implementing policy in a way that harnesses competition and protects the interests of consumers” but also to following up to ensure that government implements recommendations made previously by the CMA. Finally, the CMA states an intention to increase its understanding of climate change issues and contributing towards a move to a low-carbon economy. It will be interesting to see how this objective will influence the CMA’s work in practice.
The CMA’s consultation closes on 19 February 2020.