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Business watchdog ready for busy year

By Phil Boeyen, ShareChat Business News Editor

Thursday 3rd January 2002

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The Commerce Commission claims it is entering the most challenging period in its 15-year history as the New Year unfolds.

The Commission says it has spent the past year preparing for new regulatory and enforcement responsibilities within several of New Zealand's most significant markets, including the electricity, telecommunications and dairy markets.

Commission chairperson, Paula Rebstock, says legislation enacted last year has provided new responsibilities under the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act 2001 and the Telecommunications Act 2001.

"In addition, the Commission has new and changed responsibilities under the Commerce Act 1986 to implement a regulatory regime in the electricity market, and to enforce new thresholds for business acquisitions.

"In 2001, the Commission completed specific preparatory work in these areas so that the regimes could be put in place as soon as practicable following enactment."

The Commission says it received a significant number of clearance applications for business acquisitions in 2001, likely due to the change in the threshold for considering the acquisitions, plus the concern of many parties to register applications before the change was enacted.

"Since then, the number of clearance applications received has remained high," says Ms Rebstock.

"Another major activity was the Commission's release of a draft report on airport price control followed by a nine-day public hearing in September. The Commission is to finalise its report for the Minister of Commerce by 1 August 2002."

Listed companies that found themselves in trouble with the Commission last year included forestry giant, Carter Holt Harvey (NZSE: CAH). The Court of Appeal upheld a Commerce Act breach by Carter Holt Harvey Building Products for anti-competitive behaviour against a small South Island rival, New Wool Products Limited.

DB Breweries (NZSE: DBG) was also in strife after acknowledging some of its beer labeling could be misleading, and telecom company Clear got in trouble for not disclosing in advertising that some users of its Z Free internet service would have to pay toll charges to access the service.

The Commission says in preparation for its major new responsibilities and a significant increase in staff numbers it has implemented a new organisational structure, creating five senior management positions to lead the Commission's core branches - Business Competition, Fair Trading, Legal, Economics and Corporate Services.

"The Commission welcomes the challenges ahead and will continue to balance the use of resources across the breadth of its activities in order to achieve the greatest benefit for competition, consumer choice and efficiency," says Ms Rebstock.

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