The CMA has issued a consultation on its plans and priorities for the coming year. Although uncertainty over Brexit means that it is consulting on “priority themes” rather than “specific objectives”, the CMA confirms that it will retain a strong interest in the digital economy, and tackling illegal and unfair practices online.
Current workload: focus on enforcement
Last year, the CMA spent almost 50% of its time on enforcement. It currently has 23 competition enforcement cases and five consumer enforcement cases underway. Other work includes one super-complaint investigation, 17 merger investigations, one market investigation and two market studies.
Priorities for the coming year: market studies and investigations
Unsurprisingly, preparing for Brexit is a high priority for the CMA, both in terms of policy development and expansion to prepare for additional responsibilities. These include dealing with UK aspects of larger or global mergers and antitrust cases currently considered in Brussels, and the enforcement of State aid rules. In preparation for its expanded role, the CMA will relocate its London headquarters in September 2019, and will continue its significant expansion in Edinburgh.
While the CMA continues to see robust enforcement of the law as central to its purpose, it indicates that wider reviews of the markets play an important role, and in 2019/20 it intends to give greater priority to market studies and investigations – subject to the outcome of EU exit negotiations.
In 2019/20, the CMA has proposed the following themes should carry particular strategic importance:
- Protecting vulnerable consumers
- Improving trust in markets
- Promoting better competition in online markets
- Supporting economic growth and productivity
Impact of Brexit on priorities
The CMA is working to ensure that it has the infrastructure in place to launch or take over major international cartel or antitrust cases, merger investigations and state aid enforcement when the UK leaves the EU – whether that it is in March 2019 or at the end of an agreed implementation period. However, the CMA confirms that it is unlikely that it will have the full planned complement of staff in place by March 2019, and this impacts on its priorities. If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, the CMA would take on a great deal of new work from March 2019, meaning that discretion to carry out work such as market studies and further enforcement would narrow considerably.
The consultation closes on 13 January. By the time the final Annual Plan is published in March 2019, the expectation is that the position in relation to Brexit will be clearer, allowing for the setting of more specific objectives. The draft plan can be accessed here.