2019 looks set to be a year when the role of antitrust enforcement will be tested by politicians, businesses and consumers worldwide. Mounting pressure for radical intervention in some concentrated sectors is driving authorities to question whether they have the right tools for the job. The challenge for businesses will be to stay ahead of these rapidly changing dynamics to ensure they are antitrust compliant in all jurisdictions, and ready to defend themselves in an investigation or litigation.

Today we published our ninth annual review of key trends in global antitrust enforcement, which explores these and other themes of key importance to business in the coming year.

Governments and regulators are looking hard at their antitrust toolkits, asking themselves:

  • how levels of competition and consumer welfare should be measured in today’s economy;
  • whether ownership, aggregation, acquisition, or certain uses of consumer data sets provide an unfair competitive advantage, and how and when enforcers should intervene;
  • whether some sectors should be subject to stricter regulation; and
  • whether political or social objectives, such as fairness for consumers, employment opportunities, benefits to the environment or wider national interests, should be taken into account in antitrust enforcement.

A year ago, the US appeared to stand apart from this last trend, but the US agencies now face pressure from both sides of the political debate for more active antitrust enforcement, with increased focus on the digital economy. The Federal Trade Commission’s hearings on “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century” are likely to create a record that will lead to political pressure for changes in both antitrust enforcement standards and new legislation. The Department of Justice’s leadership has reinforced – through both rhetoric and action – the perception that changes are likely.

Similarly, as China’s antitrust regime gets ready for its second decade of enforcement, sectors directly impacting people’s livelihoods remain a focus for enforcement.

Throughout 2019 we will hold a number of events to discuss the implications of these and other developments. If you are interested in joining our discussions, do get in touch.