ComCom becomes Australia's 'eyes and ears'
New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has agreed to take on some of the dirty work on behalf of Australia’s competition watchdog.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims visited Wellington this week to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing the information sharing.
Both say the memorandum relates to compulsorily-acquired information and investigative assistance.
Commerce Commission chairman Dr Mark Berry says the organisations see a need for the memorandum because both economies are “highly integrated” as a result of cross-border trade of goods and services and the movement between countries of employees and capital.
Been sharing for some time
He told NBR ONLINE they have shared voluntary information for some time and the ACCC has also provided compulsorily-acquired information to its New Zealand counterpart.
“This memorandum is simply about reciprocating that.”
Exactly how will the new agreement work?
Dr Berry says if the ACCC needs issues to be investigated in New Zealand as part of its investigation, the Commerce Commission will become the “eyes and ears” before sending information across the Tasman.
The commission will then use all its powers to investigate whatever ACCC needs.
“There are plenty of past examples of voluntary information-sharing between the two organisations, including aspects of the long-running air freight and air cargo cartel investigations and merger transactions which affect companies in both countries.”
The commission has been investigating 13 airlines it alleges colluded to fix fuel and security surcharges for cargo shipments into and out of New Zealand during the early 2000s.
The commission has now successfully settled with half of the airlines for more than $21 million.
Dr Berry says one trans-Tasman merger which required investigation and information sharing was in October 2011, when the Pact Group sought clearance to buy the plastic pails business Viscount Plastics.
Both companies supplied plastic packaging products in Australia and New Zealand and the two regulators cleared the acquisition in May last year.
He says in those situations, the cross-appointment role comes into effect, when Dr Berry takes up a position as an associate commissioner on the ACCC board and ACCC’s Dr Jill Walker appears on the Commerce Commission’s board.
Mr Sims believes both organisations are perhaps closer than any similar groups in the world.
Despite this, the Wellington visit was Mr Sims’ first during his 18-month tenure at the ACCC.
“This trip has been six months in the planning. Rod has a very busy schedule and this has been the only opportunity to visit,” Dr Berry says.
The ACCC and the commission share a unique relationship.
“There is a high level of agreement on competition and consumer policy, and many of the laws in both countries are substantially the same," he says.
“We both share a close and warm working relationship.”