Hong Kong’s competition law could be tightened if ongoing talks about it covering mergers across all industries, as well as statutory bodies, bear fruit.
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On Wednesday, Competition Commission chairwoman Anna Wu Hung-yuk revealed that the body was reviewing the Competition Ordinance with the government, about three years after the law came in.
Wu said one of the topics she would bring up was widening the law’s scope to regulate mergers likely to greatly reduce competition in Hong Kong across all sectors, rather than only applying to telecoms companies as it currently does. But she saw challenges ahead.
“Handling the issue over merging will be the most difficult. It touches on the interest of the business sector,” she said.
Other possibilities for talks included abolishing the ordinance’s exemption for statutory bodies, allowing individuals to sue for anticompetitive conduct rather than having to go through the commission, and giving the regulator the power to demand documents from firms if needed.
Wu hoped the four topics could be looked at again, but she said the government had the final say on any changes.
Over the last three years, the antitrust body has handled more than 3,400 complaints and inquiries. Among some 200 cases that have been escalated for further assessments, in-depth investigations have been conducted for close to 15 per cent, or about 30 cases.
Wu predicted there would be several enforcement outcomes in 2019.
But these cases do not necessarily have to be dealt with by the court, the commission said – issuing a warning letter can also be an option.
The commission came under the spotlight earlier this month when it announced it had opened an unprecedented investigation into whether a new “super alliance” between four of the five operators at the city’s container port – one of the world’s biggest – broke antitrust rules.
The Hong Kong Seaport Alliance, formed by Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), COSCO-HIT Terminals, Asia Container Terminals and Modern Terminals, would jointly operate and manage 23 berths across eight terminals at Kwai Tsing in the New Territories.
The watchdog’s CEO Brent Snyder said the investigation would be this year’s priority, adding that the operators had approached the commission some time before they publicly announced the alliance.
But the commission could only establish an investigation after its official launch, he said.