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Competition, consumer protections key to productivity - ComCom

Thursday 25th July 2019

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Competition and proper consumer protections will be essential if New Zealand is to benefit from the rapid technological developments underway globally, Commerce Commission chair Anna Rawlings says.

While new technologies are providing “pretty spectacular” choices in communications, online retailing and entertainment, surveys show some consumers are expressing a sense of vulnerability that their personal data may be being harvested and that their choices are somehow being manipulated, Rawlings said at the Competition Matters conference in Auckland today.

She said those concerns possibly reflect a wider international trend in which some people are expressing a loss of faith in markets and institutions.

“In this context, competition remains especially important, as does the role of agencies like ours,” she told about 300 economists, lawyers, policymakers and executives.

“The effective enforcement of competition laws, and proactively tackling anti-competitive conduct, are vital to address New Zealand’s productivity,” Rawlings said.

“It's central to fostering innovation, to encouraging growth and employment and to maintaining and fostering business and consumer confidence.

“And it's increasingly important that people can see the extent to which healthy competition can contribute to the wellbeing of consumers and to the economy as a whole.”

Rawlings, who has just taken over as commission chair from Mark Berry, said the organisation is not planning “dramatic” change in the way it approaches its work.

But she said the organisation needs to be fit for the future and will continue to seek ways to work more closely with consumer groups.

Its staff has already expanded to about 250, from 180 five years ago, and that number is likely to rise further as the commission takes on wider responsibilities.

Every piece of legislation the commission polices has either been amended, or is expected to be amended, she noted.

The organisation is undertaking its first market study – into fuel retailing – and is preparing for the criminalisation of cartel behaviour taking effect in 2021.

Educating firms about that change will be among the commission’s eight key focus points in the coming year, along with greater monitoring and reporting of retail telecommunications performance, setting new regulatory rules for broadband fibre services, and the five-yearly price resets for electricity networks currently underway.

Rawlings said motor vehicles remain the second-largest purchase most households make, so sales practices and their financing will remain a key focus for the commission.

Online retailing and environmental claims by product makers – an issue of growing importance to consumers – will also be key focus areas.

“We’re going to continue to be busy, we expect. We have more cases before the courts than ever before. We have a significant programme of work on the table, and there is a lot of legislative change and we are getting fit for the future.”

(BusinessDesk)

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