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Antitrust Regulators Seek "Superhero" Cooperation

The head of the Department of Justice’s criminal antitrust unit called Monday for greater international cooperation in limiting the cost for companies to cooperate with investigators.  Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder’s remarks come on the heels of Canadian Competition Commissioner John Pecman’s speech urging development of a “longer term strategic plan” for international antitrust cooperation.

“If a script were ever written about our work, perhaps it would be called the ‘Avengers of Antitrust,’” Pecman said of the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, Canada’s Competition Bureau, and Mexico’s Federal Economic Competition.  In comments to the North American Antitrust Authorities Conference in Mexico City, Pecman envisioned a regional network comprised of antitrust authorities from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  Although officials from the three countries have collaborated on a case-by-case basis, Pecman stressed a need for general, over-arching interagency cooperation.

The Canadian commissioner acknowledged that the agencies have already begun making strides toward strengthened partnership.  For example, they have engaged in staff exchanges and agency heads meet regularly to better understand each country’s antitrust regime and processes.

“We share a common goal: active, effective competition policy and enforcement, contributing to a North American marketplace in which consumers and businesses can prosper,” Pecman explained. “We tackle daily the realities of today’s globalized marketplace where borders are overcome by digital consumers and there is outsourcing of a variety of services and global value chains.”

Still, Pecman urged, “there’s more we can be doing to collaborate.” He highlighted several areas for enhanced cooperation, such as joint investigations in merger reviews and increased information sharing.

“As Captain America said to Iron Man, ‘we need a plan of attack’” to “deepen our working relationships with international partners,” Pecman said.

U.S. enforcer Snyder’s concern about the cost of cooperating with multiple enforcers is in line with Pecman’s focus on general collaboration. Snyder suggested that enforcers should help manage the costs of seeking leniency by coordinating witness interviews. For companies who cooperate but are not eligible for leniency, Snyder advocated coordination of fines.

“Each jurisdiction can and should impose the penalties that reflect the harm imposed in that jurisdiction by the cartel offense and I’ve yet to see any credible evidence cartels are being overdeterred,” Snyder said at the Sixth Annual Chicago Forum on International Antitrust Issues at Northwestern University School of Law. “But ultimately, the punishment should fit the crime and greater discussion among enforcers about our fine methodologies in specific investigations will help us minimize the risk of either overlapping fines or inconsistent approaches to how we calculate our fines.”