Competition Authority and NCA may clash
Goodbody Lawyer says there will be "tensions" where competition policy matters and consumer concerns conflict
10 November 2008
It was announced last month the NCA and Competition Authority have been merged as a result of budget cutbacks. While the merger brings Ireland in line with the practice in the UK (the Office of Fair Trade), US (the Federal Trade Commission) and Australia (the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission), some commentators believe that it is not a seamless amalgamation and the interests of the two agenciesl may cause “tensions”.
Commenting on the merger, Dr Vincent Power, partner at A&L Goodbody Solicitors, said: there will be an interesting tension at times between “consumer protection” and “competition policy” which usually (but don’t always) overlap. This means that the new body will sometimes have to choose between the two and this could cause conflict. It will be interesting to see which will win out.”
Dr Power gave the example of a case where the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs prosecuted a company it believed had breached the Groceries Order, and during proceedings the Competition Authority issued a press release regretting the prosecution.
“You had a clear divide between what would have been the two sides of the same house were they amalgamated as one at that time. This is because there can be a tension between consumer and competition concerns.
“Consumer concerns are usually more protectionist of the consumer and balancing the needs of the consumer with suppliers. Competition concerns tend to be more binary: is it free competition or not?”
Dr Power explained that tensions between the two would only arise when they were conflicting, which could impact negatively on the market: “A tension or conflict would also manifest itself in terms of what approach would be taken to various issues. The competition view would be “let the market decide” and the consumer view would be “what is best needed to protect the consumer?” Competition advocates would say that the consumer always wins.”