Approximately 80 WTO
Member countries, including some 50 developing and transition countries, have adopted
competition laws, also known as antitrust or anti-monopoly laws.
Typically, these laws provide remedies to deal with a range of anti-competitive practices,
including price fixing and other cartel arrangements, abuses of a dominant position or
monopolization, mergers that limit competition, and agreements between suppliers and
distributors (vertical agreements) that foreclose markets to new competitors.
The concept of competition policy includes competition laws in addition to
other measures aimed at promoting competition in the national economy, such as sectoral
regulations and privatization policies.
The WTO Working Group
on the Interaction between Trade and Competition Policy (WGTCP) was established at the
Singapore Ministerial Conference in December 1996 to consider issues raised by Members
relating to the interaction of these two policy fields. Since its initial meeting in July
1997, the Group has examined a wide range of such issues. The approximately 125
submissions received by the Working Group from Members thus far attest to the keen
interest that has been shown by Members in the subject.
In 1997 and 1998, the
work of the WTO Working Group was organized around a Checklist of Issues Suggested For
Study which was developed at the first meeting of the Group. In particular, the work
focused on the following main elements of the Checklist:
- The relationship
between the objectives, principles, concepts, scope and instruments of trade and
competition policy; and their relationship to development and economic growth.
- Stocktaking and
analysis of existing instruments, standards and activities regarding trade and competition
policy, including of experience with their application.
- The interaction between
trade and competition policy, including consideration of the following sub-elements:
- the impact of
anti-competitive practices of enterprises and associations on international trade;
- the impact of state
monopolies, exclusive rights and regulatory policies on competition and international
- the relationship
between the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights and competition policy;
- the relationship
between investment and competition policy;
- the impact of trade
policy on competition.
A detailed Report on
the Groups deliberations on the above matters was issued in December 1998. The
Report documents views expressed by Members regarding matters such as the mutually
supportive relationship between trade liberalization and competition policy, the
categories of anti-competitive practices that can impact adversely on international trade
and investment and the potential contributions of competition policies to economic
development. In addition, since 1997 the WTO has organized, in cooperation with UNCTAD and
the World Bank, four Symposia on issues related to the work of the Working Group.
Pursuant to a decision
by the General Council of the WTO, the Working Group examined in 1999 three further
- the relevance of the
fundamental WTO principles of national treatment, transparency, and most-favoured-nation
treatment to competition policy and vice versa;
- approaches to promoting
cooperation and communication among Members, including in the field of technical
- the contribution of
competition policy to achieving the objectives of the WTO, including the promotion of
While the relevance of
WTO principles to competition policy and the need for enhanced cooperation among Members
in addressing anti-competitive practices were affirmed by a number of Members, views
differed as to the need for action at the level of the WTO to enhance the relevance of
competition policy to the multilateral trading system. In particular, while a number of
Members expressed support for the development of a multilateral framework on competition
policy in the WTO, to support the implementation of effective competition policies by
Member countries and reduce the potential for conflicts in this area, others questioned
the desirability of such a framework and favoured bilateral and/or regional approaches to
cooperation in this field.
The question of the
desirability of developing a multilateral framework on competition policy will now be
taken up at the Seattle Ministerial Conference. In the preparations for the Conference, a
number of Members have renewed the call for a WTO framework to support the implementation
of effective national competition policies by Members and enhance the overall contribution
of competition policy to the multilateral trading system while other Members have
expressed continuing objections to negotiations on this matter.