Microeconomics for Business
Briefly outline the main features of, and rationale for, UK Competition Policy. Is it possible to have an effective policy when there are so many large multi-national corporations operating across the global economy?
UK Competition Policy can be broadly defined as "a means by which governments hope to improve the competitive environment in which firms operate, in order to enhance the overall performance of the economy."(Lees and Lam, 2001) Competition law is enforced by the Office of Fair Trading. Their aim is to make the market place fair, by eliminating any unfair practices. Under the title of Competition Policy, a number of factors are taken into account. Competition Law is used to impose certain regulations on companies. A number of different Acts are used to implement the law. The Competition Act of 1998 covers such issues as the prevention of cartels, and the prevention of the abuse of a dominant market position. The Enterprise Act of 2002 allows mergers to be investigated. Other activities carried out by the Office of Fair Trading include educating businesses about any changes to the law that may affect them, and the promotion of a "strong competitive culture across a wide range of markets," (Competition Enforcement webpage.) Many UK companies will also be affected by other international laws. Articles 81 and 82 of the European Community will be considered for some cases.
One of the main features of UK Competition Policy is that it tries to stop firms from abusing their dominant market position. Some firms become very successful and powerful within the industry that they are operating in. "European firms suspected of gaining monopoly power through creating barriers to entry, colluding over prices, or through merger activity, can be investigated under European Union law," (Lees and Lam, 2001) A dominant market position usually occurs for one of two reasons; either the firm is performing well and a natural monopoly occurs, or, the firm is behaving in an un-just manner. UK Competition Policy exists to eliminate the abuse of the position, not the fact that they are in this position, i.e. it is concerned with the second of these reasons. This is different to in the USA, where firms are "prohibited from monopolising or attempting to monopolise a market, and the growth of a dominant position is restrained at an early stage," (Lees and Lam, 2001.) Another feature is the restriction of cartels and mergers. "A cartel is a collusive agreement among a number of firms designed to restrict output and achieve a higher profit for each member," (M. Parkin, 2003.) In the UK cartels are illegal, as they are not considered to be acting in the public's interest. Therefore, firms suspected of operating cartels are closely monitored. The Fair Trading Act of 1973 is used to investigate mergers. UK Policy means that mergers are investigated when the value of the assets involved surpasses a certain amount, or when it creates a monopoly position. The aim of any investigations related to this matter is usually to determine what is in the public's best interests. Public Interest regulations are often considered under Competition Policy. Two more important features to consider are the Competition Act of 1998, and The Enterprise Act of 2002. "CA98, (Competition Act 1998) prohibits agreements, business practices and conduct that damage competition in the UK. In brief, CA98 prohibits anti-competitive agreements and abuse of a dominant market position." (Ofwat Economic regulatory webpage.) The aim of the act is to provide a set of regulations that a company's practices can be judged by to see if they are in breach of the act. "The Enterprise Act 2002 makes a number of important reforms, which are designed to crack down on abuses that harm consumers and fair-trading businesses alike and thus encourage productivity and enterprise. It gives the OFT a greater role in ensuring that...