The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is asking small businesses for their opinions in determining priority areas for compliance and enforcement for 2022.
The ACCC has released a stakeholder consultation survey as part of an annual review of its Compliance and Enforcement Priorities.
The policy sets out the ACCC’s “priority areas” and lists primary factors the ACCC will take into account when deciding to pursue matters. This year’s priorities have been dominated by concerns in the travel, events and tourism industries as a result of COVID-19.
Given the major movements in the brewing industry in recent years, including last year’s takeover of Carlton & United Breweries by Asahi Beverages, and more recently, the proposed acquisition of Stone & Wood parent company Fermentum by Lion, the movements of the ACCC are particularly of interest to the brewing industry.
The ACCC said that feedback from small businesses is “invaluable” in this process, and is asking them to help identify issues that might be causing small business harm or “competitive detriment” to help draft its 2022 Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
The consultation comes in the wake of movements by the ACCC chair Rod Sims to obtain greater powers for the competition watchdog, which could affect any future mergers and acquisitions in the brewing industry and beyond.
In a speech made recently Sims said that the Australian approach to merger control is “out of step” with international regimes.
He highlighted that many markets are dominated by a small number of providers, including supermarkets, banking and telecommunications. It is also the case with the brewing industry, with the IBA calling it an oligopoly, with Lion, CUB and now Endeavour Group as Australia’s major beer suppliers.
Sims argued that as a result of this environment, customers are paying more than they should for a wide range of goods and services.
The ACCC chair said he would be pushing for ACCC clearance requirements for mergers, before they are announced. Currently mergers are announced and then sent to the ACCC, but the watchdog has no approval powers, it can only say that it does not oppose the merger, and then has to convince a Federal Court that it would result in a lessening of competition.
“We consider that the merger law should recognise that acquisitions of rivals made by firms with substantial market power in a market more likely result in economic harm,” Sims said.