CUTS Book Sheds Light on Needed Competition Reforms in Sectors Critical to People Welfare

On the sidelines of the 7th Review Conference of the UN Set on Competition Policy taking place this week at UNCTAD in Geneva, the Indian think- and action tank CUTS International released a publication that sheds light on how competition policy can better work for people.

Launched this evening at the United Nations under the title “Making Competition Reforms Work for People: Evidence from Select Developing Countries and Sectors”, the book highlights the need for competition reforms in two central sectors of ordinary people’s lives: staple food and bus transport.

“It is hoped that the publication will attract greater attention of policy-makers and practitioners on competition reforms as a means for achieving higher social and economic welfare“, said the Secretary-General of CUTS International, Pradeep S Mehta.

Speaking on behalf of UNCTAD, Guillermo Valles, Director, Division on International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities, noted the relevance of the evidence contained in the book for the daily life of consumers and producers. “This is arising from the relevant CUTS experience in representing the interests of consumers within the developing world”, he said.

Of course, the introduction of a discussion on competition reforms, especially policies aiming to achieve level-playing field in important sectors are likely to be subject to considerable tribulations and even resistance from some quarters who would benefit from the status quo.

According to Ashok Chawla, Chairperson of the Competition Commission of India, “this study brings in the kind of debate that is necessary in developing countries where competition issues are still incipient.”

As one of the countries studied in the book, The Philippines were represented by the Chairman of the Office for Competition of the Philippines, Geronimo Sy, who joined the previous dignitaries in commending the significance of the book.

The publication is based on evidence from CUTS’ project ‘Competition Reforms in Key Markets for Enhancing Social & Economic Welfare in Developing Countries’ (CREW), funded by DFID of the UK with support from BMZ and GIZ of Germany. The project aims to assess the nature, type and impact of competition reforms in these two sectors Ghana, India, The Philippines and Zambia.

A significant portion of income, especially of low income groups in developing countries, are spent on essentials like staple food and transportation. However, evidence suggests that these commodities are either over-charged or are of sub-standard quality, furthering the woes of poor consumers.

After a surge of market-distorting state-owned monopolies in the 1990s, governments have now begun to liberalise but still find it difficult to give up control and compete with the private sector. A way forward could be to gradually introduce competition in the market and levelling the playing field between state-owned entities and private players, accompanied by sound and effective independent regulation.

As part of its agenda for south-south cooperation, CUTS believes that local capacities need to be built up to absorb regulatory reforms through local ownership. This is why it has worked together with local civil society and research organisations across 30 developing countries to develop ground-level evidence and stakeholder capacity on the need for promoting a healthy competition culture.