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Competition policy in Latin America: a new area of interest for the European Union

by Juan Antonio Rivière Martí


published in the EC Competition Policy Newsletter, vol 3 No 1 spring 1997

1. Ten years of economic development

South and Central America are currently a great focus of attention as regards competition policy. Since the early 1990s this part of the world has witnessed a strengthening of democratic regimes, with economic policies involving the opening of markets to international trade. All this has produced noteworthy economic growth, in an area which is home to some 460 million people.

Details have varied from country to country, but the main features of economic policy have been economic adjustment, financial restructuring, stringent monetary policy, tariff dismantling, promotion of foreign investment, privatization of public enterprises and the pursuit of regional economic integration. After some decades of state interventionism in the economy, with all the problems of dirigisme and monopoly, Latin America has rediscovered the dynamism of the free market and set about encouraging competitiveness of firms, though there are still many challenges to be met in creating jobs and reducing poverty.

2. International support

This economic and political development has favoured the creation and modernization of competition legislation in the region, with changes being made and implementation being improved. This process has received international support, both through initiatives within the region such as the creation of Mercosur, the revival of the Andean Pact, the Central American Integration System, the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the Organization of American States and NAFTA, and through various consultancy and discussion forum initiatives on the part of such institutions as the World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

3. Competition rules ancient and modern

Table 1 lists competition legislation currently in force. At present there are such rules in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica. There are also regional competition rules for Mercosur and the Andean Pact. There is draft legislation in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Brazil has a long tradition of anti-monopoly legislation, dating from the last century, while in Argentina such rules go back to 1919, in Mexico to 1934, in Colombia to 1959 and in Chile to 1973. Since the countries of Latin America gained their independence, their legal systems have for the most part been based on those of Latin Europe. Their competition rules cover concerted practices or agreements between competing enterprises, abuse of a dominant position and merger control. Though it is true that their competition rules have been inspired partly by those of the European Community, it is nonetheless the case nowadays that the legal concepts involved are recognised worldwide as guidelines for organizing a market economy.

4. A broad view of competition

Although features of economic life differ from country to country, the economic adjustment policies which have been implemented have required action in many areas which touch on competition legislation. These include the rights of consumers, technical standards, investment rules, commercial law, especially patents and trademarks, protection of trade, privatization and regulated service sectors. Competition rules are part of these efforts to improve the way economic life is organized. There are those who consider such rules to be essential, but they could hardly be implemented if the organization of the economy did not offer some guarantee of stability in operation.

5. Up-to-date competition authorities

All the legislations mentioned set up a body (which may have various names: authority, commission, council, agency etc.) with responsibility for applying competition rules. Some countries have different bodies responsible for the investigation procedure and the final decision, the latter being a matter for a special tribunal. Examples are Chile and Peru. Table 2 lists national competition authorities. Some of them have the power to interpret the law and may issue resolutions or rulings to facilitate implementation of competition rules. In some countries the scope of the operative parts of such rulings is restricted. Administrative rules on competition authority powers and procedural rules are usually fuller. Some national legislations set reducing bureaucratic procedures and formalities as an objective.

6. A culture of competition

In general, competition authorities in Latin America face the challenge of implementing competition legislation with limited administrative and financial resources, while their countries' economies include sectors with a high degree of concentration where everyone is used to state intervention or agreements between undertakings. This means that an effort is needed to create a "culture" of competition. Encouraging competition has to start within the state administration, with the training of officials, and in the universities, with suitable academic curriculums. In order to create a general awareness of competition in society, business and professional circles have to be informed about what the aims of a market economy are and why there has to be legislation to protect competition. It is bound to be harder to implement competition rules in Latin America than in more highly industrialized economies such as we find in the European Union.

7. Globalization of operations

A further consideration is that Latin America's competition authorities do not yet have any lengthy theoretical or practical experience but do have to face the challenge of developing their own legislation and tackling competition problems similar to those encountered in Europe or the United States. In such sectors as telecommunications, digital television, credit cards, consumer goods produced by multinationals and motor vehicle distribution, the challenges to competition are now global ones. There is thus every reason to find out what the rules are in other countries and to cooperate in investigating and resolving current problems.

8. The European Union on the international stage

Similarly, the international aspects of competition policy have been becoming more important to the European Union too. The need for cooperation between the Member States and the Commission is growing. The amount of trade between the United States and the European Union has led to the conclusion of an agreement on cooperation in competition matters, soon to be accompanied by a "comitology" (committee procedures) agreement. The development of the market economy in eastern and central Europe, where there are countries which may soon be joining the Union, have enabled us to export our competition model, while the idea of turning the countries of the Mediterranean basin into partners through free trade agreements has excited their interest in taking over competition rules. This set of initiatives to help the countries of eastern and central Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Mediterranean basin are supported by technical programmes such as Phare, Tacis and Media, all backed by major financing. The European Union's presence in such international forums as the WTO has enabled it to help in launching multilateral initiatives.

9. Framework cooperation agreements

The European Union has set up a series of framework cooperation agreements with Latin American countries. The main one is the Interregional Framework Cooperation Agreement with Mercosur, of 15 December 1995 (OJ L 69/1996), which includes provision for the establishment later of a free trade area. The idea of supporting Mercosur's process of economic integration is a very important one.

There are individual framework cooperation agreements with Argentina, signed on 2 April 1990 (OJ 295/1990, p. 66), and Brazil, signed on 29 June 1995 (OJ L 262/1995, p. 53). Another with Chile, still to be ratified, was initialled on 26 April 1966, and one is being negotiated with Mexico, aimed at setting up a free trade area. There are two other such agreements covering the Union's trade relations with Latin America: the one signed on 26 June 1992 with the Cartagena Agreement and its parties, the Andean Pact (OJ C25/1993, p. 32) and another of 22 February 1993 with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, the so-called Central American Isthmus (OJ C 77/1993, p. 30).

Article 5(3) of the agreement with Mercosur provides that: "In particular, cooperation of this nature shall focus mainly on the following:(a) ... trade discipline such as restrictive trade practices...", while Article 11(2) adds that: "Such cooperation shall focus in particular on: ...(c) identifying barriers to industrial cooperation between the Parties and eliminating such barriers using measures which promote compliance with competition rules and foster the tailoring of those rules to the needs of the market...".

10. The approach to cooperation in 1996-2000

Financial and technical cooperation with Latin America amounted in 1995 to ECU 205 million, mostly in the form of development projects aimed at resolving macroeconomic and sectoral problems. Economic cooperation represented ECU 56 million, for improving the economic context, encouraging sectoral integration and promoting economic expansion. Other areas of cooperation accounted for ECU 80 million. Total aid granted amounted to ECU 520 million. In late 1995 the Commission received the support of the Council for its approach for the period 1996-2000, whereby cooperation would be extended to cover support for institutions, measures to combat poverty, economic reform, improving competitiveness, training and open regional integration. The European Parliament's Bertens report called for new proposals and designing a global action programme matching the changes which have come about.

11. Dynamic expansion of trade

It is not only the European Parliament which has recognised Latin America's dynamism. A number of Member States, such as Spain and Germany, are active through their cooperation agencies. European leaders, most recently the President of France, have often stressed the importance of relations with Latin America. European business has for some time now been aware of the increase in trade. External trade flows in 1995 amounted to somewhere around US$ 40 billion. Three quarters of European investment is accounted for, given their size and degree of development, by Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, but Europe is also interested in the other Latin American countries. There is one foreign trade statistic which is particularly revealing: between 1993 and 1995, Latin America accounted for about 10.4% of the total increase in the European Union's external trade. This is more than double its share in the total volume of the Community's external trade.

12. A factor promoting economic integration

The implementation of competition rules in Latin America is a major factor in the economic development and regional integration of the markets concerned. Where there is legal certainty as to their application, the risk of trade disputes and policies of trade defence is considerably reduced. At the European Commission's Directorate-General for Competition (DG IV) we monitored this process during 1966. We have also put together a compendium of Latin American competition legislation and a list of the national authorities, in order to make these better known. (1) We have also surveyed the possibilities for technical collaboration both with individual countries and with groups of countries (Mercosur, the Andean Pact, the Central American Isthmus).

13. Areas of cooperation

We are currently looking at the scope for cooperation between the competition authorities of the European Union and of Latin American countries. The options fall into three main groups:

1. Training: this could include exchanges or in-service training with competition authorities, lectures, seminars and university courses, promoting practical knowledge of the application of competition rules.

2. Institutional links: to foster cooperation between competition authorities in order to promote the exchange of information on management and on improving procedures.

3. Promotion of economic integration: this requires the culture of competition to be put on a firmer footing, involving both business and competition circles, with the legal framework being developed at the same time.

These are ambitious aims, to be examined by both the Community institutions and by the national competition authorities in the Member States and Latin America. As relations develop, specific measures to implement this cooperation will be decided on. An exploratory group has recently been sent to the Mercosur countries to assess the scope for technical assistance from the European Union. A new area of cooperation with Latin America is emerging: it is for all those concerned to face up to their responsibilities and give a new dimension to our relations in the field of competition policy.

Juan Antonio Rivière Martí


Directorate-General for Competition

Commission of the European Communities

Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 200

Office C 158 8/49

B-1049 Brussels


Fax: (+32-2) 296 98 03


Table 1

COUNTRY/       COMPETITION LEGISLATION                                       

ARGENTINA      Ley N/ 22.262 de Defensa de la Competencia, de 01.08.1980.    

BRAZIL         Lei N/ 8884, de 11.06.1994, alterada pela Lei N/ 9069 de      
               Prevenção e repressão as infrações contra ordem econômica     
               Lei N/ 9021, de 30.03.95, Autarquia do CADE                   
               Resolução n/ 5, de 28.8.96 do CADE. Disciplina as             
               formalidades e os procedimentos, no CADE, relativos aos atos  
               de que trata o art. 54 da Lei N/ 8884.                        
               Resolução n/ 6, de 2.10.96 do CADE                            

COLOMBIA       Ley 155 de 24.12.1959, prácticas comerciales restrictivas.    
               Decreto n/ 1302 de 01.06.1964,                                
               Decreto n/ 2153 de 30.12.1992, reestructura la                

COSTA RICA     Ley de Promoción de la Competencia y Defensa Efectiva del     
               Consumidor, de 20.12.1994.                                    

CHILE          Decreto Ley n/ 211, de 1973. Defensa de la libre              
               competencia; previene y sanciona las prácticas monopólicas,   
               modificada por el  Decreto Ley n/ 2760 de 03.07.1979.         

JAMAICA        The Fair Competition Act.  de 09.03.1993                      

MERCOSUR       Decisión n/ 21/94-CMC Defensa de la Competencia. Pautas       
               Generales de Armonización.                                    
               Decisión n/ 18/96 Protocolo de Defensa de la Competencia del  
               Mercosur 17.12.1996                                           

MEXICO         Ley Federal de Competencia Económica, de 24.12.1992.          
               Reglamento interior de la Comisión Federal de Competencia,    
               de 12.10.1993.                                                

ANDEAN PACT    Decisión 285 de 21.03.1991. Normas para prevenir o corregir   
               las distorsiones en la competencia generadas por prácticas    
               restrictivas de la libre competencia.                         

PANAMA         Ley N/ 29  de 1 de febrero de 1996, por la cual se dictan     
               normas sobre la Defensa de la Competencia y se adoptan otras  

PERU           Decreto n/ 701 de 05.11.1991. Prácticas monopólicas,          
               controlistas y restrictivas de la libre competencia.          
               Decreto Ley n/ 25868 de 06.11.1992, de organización del       
               Decreto Legislativo N/ 807, de 16.04.96, Facultades, normas   
               y organización del Indecopi                                   

VENEZUELA      Ley de 13.12.1991, para promover y proteger el ejercicio de   
               la libre competencia.                                         
               Reglamento N/ 1, de 21.01.93; Reglamento N/ 2, de 21.05.96    
               Instructivo N/ 1, de 12.07.93; Instructivo N/ 2, de 23.05.94  

Table 2

COUNTRY        COMPETITION AUTHORITIES                                       

ARGENTINA      Comisión Nacional de Defensa de la Competencia                
               Ministerio de Economía y Obras y Servicios Públicos           

BRAZIL         Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica CADE,             
               Secretaria de Direito Econômico. Ministério da Justiça        
               Secretaria de Acompanhamento Económico, Ministério da         

COLOMBIA       Superintendencia Delegada para la Promoción de la             
               Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio, Ministerio de       
               Industria y Comercio.                                         

COSTA RICA     Comisión para la Promoción de la Competencia.                 
               Unidad Técnica de Apoyo, Ministerio de Economía, Industria y  

CHILE          Fiscalía Nacional Económica                                   

JAMAICA        Fair Trading Commission                                       

MEXICO         Comisión Federal de Competencia                               
               Secretaria de Comercio y Fomento Industrial - SECOFI          

PANAMA         Ministerio de Comercio e Industrias                           

PERU           Comisión de Libre Competencia del Indecopi                    
               Instituto Nacional de Defensa de la Competencia y de la       
               Protección de Propiedad Intelectual                           
               Tribunal de Defensa de la Competencia y de la Propiedad       

VENEZUELA      Superintendencia Pro-Competencia                              

(1) Should you wish to receive a copy of the compendium, please send your name and address, detailing your firm or institution, your job in it and your address and telephone or fax numbers and your e-mail address to me at the address given at the end of this article.


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