Competition law, policy and regulation in the digital era

Umberto Setter

Competition in digital markets has become a key issue at stake for governments and competition authorities around the world. Recent developments show the proactive efforts made by competition authorities and governments to restore competition and maintain markets open and accessible to rivals in the digital economy. In this session, experts explored recent competition cases and initiatives in this sector, and discussed how to complement competition law and regulation to achieve fair competition in digital markets and ensure that these markets are fair, open and accessible to new entrants.

The session opened with an overview by UNCTAD on the rapid increase of digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the evolution of digital markets. The capital market for “big tech” firms reached a 71% growth between 2020 and 2021. It was emphasised how the digital markets expansion poses several challenges from a competition law and policy viewpoint. In particular, two specific challenges were highlighted: (i) competition authorities are often equipped with inadequate tools to identify unfair practices; and (ii) accurately defining digital markets becomes increasingly difficult due to their dynamic nature.

From the discussions, it arose the need to regulate digital markets ex ante as they develop and expand worldwide. Amendments to existing competition laws and the creation of new regulations based on market studies are the necessary step to address the rapidly developing arena of digital markets. Panellists underlined that the effective regulation of competition in digital markets is closely linked to an inclusive recovery as well as to consumer protection law.

The discussions led to address the important connection that there must be between competition authorities, policy-makers, and regulatory agencies in order to update digital markets’ related competition law. Such connection is necessary to overcome the versatility of digital platform and their lack of specific links with single markets.

The panel continued underlining the challenges that developing countries face when bringing competition cases against important digital platforms. Panellists suggested more collaboration between countries with common problems to limit the cost in terms of finance and time. It was pointed out that may digital platforms and markets are international in nature and as such competition challenges can be face multilaterally minimizing the costs and leveraging against influential platforms.

To conclude, experiences and regulations form various countries and regional organization were shared together with the warm encouragement to continue sharing to overcome the barriers that digital markets pose on competition law.

On the panel were Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Chief Executive Officer, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Nigeria; Mr. Alexandre Barreto de Souza, President, Administrative Council for Economic Defense, Brazil; Mr. Lefu Xu, Deputy Director, State Administration for Market Regulation, China; Mr. Pierre Régibeau, Chief Competition Economist, Directorate General for Competition, European Commission.

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