DAB backs cross-sector competition bill proposal

Party will unite with pan-democrats despite opposition from business sector

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has decided to support a cross-sector law to safeguard fair competition, despite strong opposition from the business sector.

The decision is significant because the party could form a united force with the pan-democracy camp to push for a law covering all types of anti-competitive conduct, and not just in specific sectors.

With a three-month consultation period on the proposed legislation ending today, DAB legislator Chan Kam-lam said the party believed the public favoured a competitive environment that would provide opportunities for companies to enter the market.

He said the party still hoped the government would consider a sector-specific law first, but a cross-sector law was acceptable if worries among small and medium-sized enterprises were dealt with.

After a government-appointed review committee in June recommended the introduction of a competition law for all types of businesses, Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan started the consultation period on November 6 with the release of a 68-page document, Promoting Competition - Maintaining Our Economic Drive.

Last week a government spokesman said the administration would discuss with lawmakers the submissions it had received in response to the document.

One of the most controversial issues raised during the consultation has been whether sector-specific laws or a cross-sector law should be introduced.

Groups representing small and medium-sized enterprises have strongly opposed a competition law across all sectors.

They are concerned it might allow their bigger rivals to lodge unreasonable complaints against smaller companies and take civil action in the courts to disrupt their operations.

These groups have asked the government to grant SMEs an exemption to any law against anti-competitive conduct, a request which has been backed by three local business groups - the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.

SMEs have been supported by the Liberal Party and The Alliance. The Democratic Party and the Civic Party back a cross-sector law.

A bill on competition policy would be tabled in the Legislative Council later this year if it was supported by the public, Mr Ip said.

Abraham Razack, an Alliance lawmaker who supports a sector-specific law, said he did not see a need for a cross-sector law.

Democratic Party legislator Fred Li Wah-ming, however, does support a cross-sector law.

'How can a sector-specific law tackle cross-sector anti-competitive behaviour, such as a developer who provides bundled services of property, telecoms and supermarkets?' he asked.