ACCC partners with five overseas agencies to tackle global competition concerns

It will work with watchdogs in the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand on competition issues like those in the digital tech giants space.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will partner with five international counterparts to tackle cross-border issues, such as those related to its investigations into digital platforms.

The new Multilateral Mutual Assistance and Cooperation Framework for Competition Authorities (MMAC) was signed virtually by the US Department of Justice, US Federal Trade Commission, the UK Competition and Markets Authority, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, and the Competition Bureau Canada.

It came into effect on 2 September 2020.

The ACCC is touting that the formation of the MMAC will allow the group to share intelligence, case theories, and investigative techniques to better coordinate investigations across international borders.

"The global economy is increasingly interconnected and many large companies, especially in the digital economy, now operate internationally. Competition regulators have to work together to ensure the companies comply with competition and consumer laws," ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

"Working more deeply with the highly-experienced competition investigators in other countries, who are often dealing with the same companies or industries, will greatly assist in gathering evidence across borders."

Sims said he expects the cooperation will particularly benefit the ACCC's existing and ongoing investigations of digital platforms, which he said were being closely watched by many agencies globally.

"Tackling anti-competitive conduct by multinational companies is critical to national economies and this international cooperation will benefit consumers and businesses in Australia, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand," he said.

As part of its work on digital platforms, the ACCC is currently compiling feedback it received on a draft Media Bargaining Code that is aimed at addressing the fundamental bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms, such as Facebook and Google.

The two tech giants in the centre of the stoush have both raised concerns about the draft code, calling it unfair and one-sided.

Facebook has even threatened to mandate for no news to be shared on its platform.

In response, Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter warned the government would not be bluffed by the likes of Facebook into tweaking its impending law.

"We're not playing poker here," he said on Wednesday. "We're not in an environment where we're ever going to be persuaded by heavy handed predictions or bluffs. I mean, we're just not doing that."

Porter said the government is trying to create a framework that is in the best interests of Australians, and that statements from the likes of Facebook and Google are "terribly unhelpful".

"Particularly unhelpful for the organisations that make them. I mean, they're not going to persuade a policy outcome here by making those sort of claims and statements. And I think that it would be extremely unlikely that you would get carried through on that type of statement," he continued.

"But in any event, we're not going to be persuaded by those types of heavy handed responses to what is a fair minded, reasonable public policy process, where we say that it's in the best interests of our country and its citizens to have a healthy news media sector and that the competition and the playing field has to be levelled in that sector."

Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland labelled the threats from Facebook as being quite serious, but said there's a need for a code to be in place to address the power imbalances.

"I think they should do the pulling in of their heads but also they need to come to the table and I think that works both ways as well," she said on Tuesday. "We need all parties to be constructive in this because we need a workable code if news media is going to survive in Australia."

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