Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Monday, August 3, 2009

Competition Laws and Policies in China and Hong Kong: A Tale of Two Regulatory Journeys

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Grace Li, University of Technology, Sydney and Angus Young, University of Technology, Sydney have published Competition Laws and Policies in China and Hong Kong: A Tale of Two Regulatory Journeys.

ABSTRACT: Competition law is generally enacted to control and influence certain business conduct deemed harmful to the smooth functioning of a competitive market. This is usually a by product of deregulation and opening up of markets to competition, as market forces alone might not be able to ensure allocative efficiency and competitive pricing is achieved. From the experiences in many European countries, the laws tend to emphasize on regulating post privatised state industries, as well as large private companies exploiting their market power to maximise profits at the expense of consumers (Maher, 2004). Much of the economic arguments for competition law are quite straightforward, the policy rationale for governmental intervention is to prevent the exploitation of market power of large companies and to promote competition (Corones, 2004). The political arguments however, are more complex where vested interests between stakeholders come into conflict. So the legislation could be a product of political compromises with "carve outs" to exclude certain sectors and companies. Thereby, making competition law a piece of economically sub optimal, and technically complex to enforce piece of legislation. After 14 years of debate, a new Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) in the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) was enacted on the 30th August 2007 and took effect on the 1st August 2008. The new AML is a milestone in Chinese pro competition policy and law. Supposedly this law would drastically alter the manner in which businesses (both domestic and foreign) operate in China and, in turn, considerable benefits would flow onto the Chinese public through increased economic efficiency, lower prices and the introduction of innovative goods and services. Yet there is a "catch", whilst the laws appear, at least in general, consistent with international competition law regimes like those in Australia, United Kingdom and the European Union, there are some significant challenges to the successful operation and implementation of the Chinese AML. In comparison, Hong Kong (HK), as a special administrative region of China, about 2000km away from Beijing, presents a different political and competition environment. Nevertheless, both economies are striving to achieve sustainable economic growth in a globally competitive market place. After a decade of discussions, HK's journey in enacting competitive has yet to realize. Under pressure from various stakeholders, the HK government has put out a details proposal on competitive law for public consultation in May this year. Even though the proposal is aimed at enhancing economic efficiency and promoting sustainable competition, there are some issues in the detailed proposal that are causes for concern. The motivation of this paper is to retrace some of the key arguments and factors leading to the enactment of competition law in PRC and the debates advocating such law in HK, so as to anticipate some of the problems associated with implementation. It also interesting to analyse the regulatory journeys of one country under two different administrations, where one is a modern economy under quasi-democratic government, the other is a developing one, labelled as a "market economy with socialist characteristics" under a centralised socialist government. Part two of this paper begins with a brief introduction to the PRC AML legislative background, substantive provisions of the AML and the areas of uncertainty in regulation and enforcement of the AML. Part three devolves into the debates in enacting competition law in HK, which to date has yet to become law. Despite the detailed proposal transplanting many ideas from the laws of other modern economies, they are some provisions that are either weak or continues to safeguard the interest of monopolies in selective sectors. This article shall conclude with some insights from the trials and tribulations of the new PRC law and HK's drawn out policy dithering.

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