The Hong Kong Competition Commission

Here’s a little supplement to yesterday’s post about the the Hong Kong Competition Commission. Turns out that not only has the introduction of the Hong Kong Competition Law been delayed, and not only is there some phantom consultation which no one seems to know about, but now we also have the Competition Commissioner, Anna Wu, saying: “We always wanted to tackle the ‘big tigers’ first as they seriously affect the market, but there will be difficulties in obtaining evidence“.

All of us who have been part of the competition law debate this past decade or so remember that one of the chief arguments – if not the main argument – for having the law was that we needed the law in order to break the supermarket duopoly: Wellcome and Park n Shop, owned by Jardine Matheson and Hutchison Whampoa respectively.

What will also be recalled is that many of those arguing against having the law, including myself, were saying that the ‘big tigers’ in Hong Kong are far too entrenched and far too close to the government for this new law to have any palpable effect on competition in the markets. Instead, there may be a few ‘alibi’ investigations and the big tigers will likely be left untouched. In fact, we argued that the government could clip the wings of the big tigers by changing the land system or by way of existing laws (e.g. restraint of trade). But, of course, the government never had any intention of going after the big tigers.

Some may say that this is a rather cynical view, but the way that Hong Kong is run, I think it is still a very realistic assessment. Certainly, Anna Wu’s statement does nothing to allay fears that the Competition Commission is just another paper tiger. Something that might please an international audience, another way of giving the elites some nice-sounding jobs, e.g. ‘Competition Commissioner’, and that’s about it.

By chance, as I was buying some chocolate milk today, I noticed that Park n Shop has just ‘reduced’ the price of two cartons to $ 37.8.

Park n Shop. Photo: Hans Mahncke

Park n Shop. Photo: Hans Mahncke

A few minutes later, I happened to step in the local Wellcome and, lo and behold, the very same brand of chocolate milk had also just been ‘reduced’ to $ 37.8 for two.

Wellcome. Photo: Hans Mahncke

Wellcome. Photo: Hans Mahncke

In fact, even a cursory glance around those shops reveals that pretty much all prices are matched, cent for cent. The chocolate milk is just one of many examples, although a particularly striking one, considering the implausibility that the same product just happened to be ‘reduced’ to the exact same price, down to the cent, at exactly the same time. The evidence of at least ‘coordination’ amongst so-called competitors is right there for all to see – the real question is whether Anna Wu and her cohorts will do something about it.

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