FTC:WATCH No. 605 March 3, 2003
The aai column
Albert A. Foer
Another "first" in the increasingly global antitrust world occurred in Geneva on February 20, 2003, with the launching of the International Network of Civil Society Organisations on Competition, whose acronym (trust me) is "INCSOC".
The mission of INCSOC is to promote a healthy competition culture around the world by coalition-building among civil society (i.e., non-profit public interest groups) and other interested organizations. Membership will be of two types. The primary institutional members will be public interest and consumer organizations, research and academic institutions and their networks that are interested in or work in the area of competition policy. There will also be a category of associate members that will include (a) competition enforcement agencies of national governments or supranational agencies and intergovernmental and regional bodies, and donor agencies; and (b) individuals and others with an interest in competition issues. (Membership is obtained by registering intent at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I see INCSOC as a necessary aspect of the institution-building that must go along with the opening up of markets in the more than one hundred nations that now have competition laws. Obviously the greater need is to create well-functioning competition authorities in all of these nations, a task that is to a large extent in the hands of the still-new International Competition Network (ICN). But, as Mario Monti told an ABA audience two years ago, competition authorities need constituencies to speak up for them and to urge them on as they confront the established economic powers, criticizing where necessary, applauding where appropriate. And these constituencies should include consumers, academics, and others who recognize the potential positive role that competition can play in consumers' lives. (Indeed, this pretty much describes the AAI.)
The difficulty, of course, is that in the majority of these countries, consumer and similar public interest organizations are weak or non-existent, and generally lack the expertise and resources to play a useful advocacy role in regard to competition. Thus, the challenge of building up this type of consumer competition capacity is so enormous as to be mind-boggling. Yet, if we are placing our bets on the viability of market systems and on their ability to meet the evolving needs of vastly diverse nations, our antitrust community must become deeply engaged in a process that cannot be left to wait until some later day.
INCSOC plans to work closely with the ICN, OECD, World Bank, WTO, UNCTAD and other bodies. One of its likely projects will be to support excellent training both for consumer advocates and for the staffs of competition authorities. (The AAI, you may recall, has developed a detailed plan for centralized, permanent competition training that could be adapted to this need. But who will fund it?) A listserve will put INCSOC members in touch with one another so that experiences can be shared, best practices exchanged, and on-going discussion encouraged. A website database is being created to support the work of the members. (www.incsoc.net.)
The person most behind INCSOC's launch is Pradeep Mehta, the Secretary General of CUTS, a leading consumer association in India. The launch was made possible through funding that CUTS obtained from the UK Department of International Development, which had also underwritten a two-year study of competition in seven developing nations. Mehta and Allan Asher of the Consumers Association of the UK will co-chair INCSOC. Two Americans in addition to myself, are on the 24-person steering committee: Spencer Weber Waller of Loyola University and Merit Janow of Columbia University. It is envisioned that most of the INCSOC activity will be accomplished through working groups. At the moment, there are two, Advocacy Needs and Capacity Building. I have agreed to co-chair the Capacity Building Working Group with Kwame Owino of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya. Your thoughts are invited on how we can raise the funds that will be needed to make this long-term effort successful.
Note: a third working group was also established for the purpose of developing a World Competition Report.