My Take

Commission should pursue Hong Kong's new competition law with vigour

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 5:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:59pm

You can always count on Hong Kong's regulatory bodies to give ample time to vested commercial interests to adjust to new legal regimes. And "ample time" can mean years or even a decade or two.

Take the competition law as an example.

The ordinance comes into effect this week. But a serious proposal for the law was made way back in 1996, before the handover, by the Consumer Council.

You can say it's better late than never. But in fact, we could have had a Competition Commission back in 2012, when the ordinance was first passed in the legislature. Instead, the commission becomes operational only now. One supposes three years is plenty of time for businesses to readjust their practices to fall in line with the new legislation. Think again.

READ MORE: Competition law must get the balance on enforcement right, to give all businesses a fair chance

Officials have suggested the commission will first concentrate on some areas and refocus later on others.

This means priority will be given to cases involving alleged price fixing and/or abuse of market dominance. However, issues about monopolies, and mergers and acquisitions will be dealt with later.

Clearly, all four areas are intricately related.

Monopolies and duopolies are more able to exploit their market position to fix prices and practise other anti-competitive tactics. Mergers and acquisitions often produce monopolies and duopolies. But, in the time-honoured tradition of Hong Kong, the authorities say something needs to be taken care of first before others. If there is a saving grace with the new commission, it's that it is being headed by Anna Wu Hung-yuk.

READ MORE: New Competition Ordinance seeks to impose a level playing field for smaller Hong Kong firms

When Wu was head of the Equal Opportunities Commission more than a decade ago, she took an activist approach that was far more aggressive than her predecessor and successors. She energetically enforced - perhaps too energetically in the eyes of the Tung Chee-hwa administration - gender and disability discrimination laws, including pursuing cases against companies and government bodies such as the Education Department. She pushed for race discrimination laws despite strong reluctance from the government to do so.

Let's hope Wu will pursue competition laws with the same vigour as she did at the EOC.