On 27 November 2014, the CMA laid out its hit list of likely sectors and priorities for investigation in 2015. The CMA, as the main UK competition watchdog and consumer champion, has a mandate to enforce effective competition in markets in the interest of consumers. It has a wide discretion in dictating its own agenda. The list of 6 priorities the CMA has identified in its Strategic Assessment are:
- Online and the digital economy (more on this below)
- Technology and emerging sectors (especially barriers to new market entrants)
- Regulated sectors and infrastructure markets (to create a downward pressure on prices for the benefit of consumers)
- Public services markets (to assist their market reforms and procurement processes)
- Sectors important to growth and economic recovery (a wide ambit that could include any important sector)
- Factors that may inhibit consumers’ ability to access markets and may affect consumers’ decision-making (a focus on increasing price and service transparency for consumers across all sectors).
As can be seen, the categories and priorities are sufficiently wide enough to catch most UK businesses and sectors. However, given the CMA’s past case load which is echoed by cases taken by other national competition regulators in the EU, the online and digital markets are likely to be priority targets (alongside the obvious focus on the energy and banking sectors). The CMA is likely to take a particular interest in online distribution, particularly in relating to online booking and comparison sites.
We have reported previously (found here), how most favoured nation (MFN) or price parity clauses have come under increased regulatory scrutiny due to a growing belief that they harm competition. This is based on the belief that a clause between say a hotel and a price comparison website that promises the hotel will not advertise or give a lower price to any other vendor actually creates a locked in lowest price for the market which then can’t be bettered. The worry is that these agreed contractual lows have an inadvertent adverse effect on prices by driving them up and also may be excluding new entrants from the market.
It remains to be seen whether the CMA will take up the reigns in examining these in the UK or whether the issue will be left for the EU Commission on a pan-European level.