Introduction

1.     This Statement sets out the objective of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's competition policy and offers some specific pointers to facilitate compliance with the policy.

Objective

2.     The objective of the Government's competition policy is to enhance economic efficiency and free flow of trade, thereby also benefiting consumer welfare. The Government is committed to competition as a means to achieving the said objective, and not as an end in itself.

3.     The Government considers competition is best nurtured and sustained by allowing the free play of market forces and keeping intervention to the minimum. We will not interfere with market forces simply on the basis of the number of operators, scale of operations, or normal commercial constraints faced by new entrants. We will take action only when market imperfections or distortions limit market accessibility or market contestability, and impair economic efficiency or free trade, to the detriment of the overall interest of Hong Kong. We will strike the right balance between competition policy considerations on the one hand, and other policy considerations such as prudential supervision, service reliability, social service commitments, safety, etc., on the other.

Pro-competition Principles

4.     All government entities, and public- and private-sector bodies are encouraged to adhere to the following pro-competition principles for the purpose of enhancing economic efficiency and free trade -

  1. maximizing reliance on, and minimizing interference with, market mechanism;

  2. maintaining a level-playing field;

  3. minimizing uncertainty and fostering confidence in system fairness and predictability by -
    1. consistent application of policies;
    2. transparent and accountable operations; and
    3. adherence to equitable and non-discriminatory standards and practices.

Restrictive Practices

5.     The Government recognizes that not all practices that limit market accessibility or contestability impair economic efficiency or free trade. Only those that do, and are not in the overall interest of Hong Kong, should be attended to. The determination of whether a practice is restrictive, detrimental to economic efficiency or free trade, and against the overall interest of Hong Kong must be made in the light of the actual situation. The intended purpose and effects of the practice in question, and the relevant market or economic conditions, etc., must all be taken into account.

6.     As each practice must be examined on its own, it is difficult and misleading to generalize. For illustrative purpose only, some business practices which may warrant more thorough examination are set out below -

  1. price-fixing* intended to distort the normal operation of the market, increase the cost for purchasers, and have the effect of impairing economic efficiency or free trade;

  2. bid-rigging*, market allocation*, sales and production quotas* intended to distort the normal operation of the market, increase the cost for and reduce the choice and availability to purchasers, and have the effect of impairing economic efficiency or free trade;

  3. joint boycotts* intended to distort the normal operation of the market, deprive supply or choice to the targets of the boycott, and have the effect of impairing economic efficiency or free trade; and

  4. unfair or discriminatory standards* among members of a trade or professional body intended to deny newcomers a chance to enter or contest in the market, and have the effect of impairing economic efficiency or free trade.

7.     The Government further recognizes that scale of operation or share of the market per se does not determine whether a business is anti-competitive or not. The determining factor is whether a business, through abusing its dominant market position, is limiting market accessibility and contestability and giving rise to economic inefficiency or obstruction of free trade to the detriment of the overall interest of Hong Kong. Each case has to be examined on its own. For illustrative purpose only, some examples that may involve an abuse of market position are set out below-

  1. predatory behaviour such as selling below cost for the purpose of driving out competition followed by substantial price increases in an area of economic activity where there are constraints to market accessibility and contestability;

  2. setting retail price minimums for products or services where there are no ready substitutes; and

  3. conditioning the supply of specified products or services to the purchase of other specified products or services or to the acceptance of certain restrictions other than to achieve assurance of quality, safety, adequate service or other justified purposes.

Approach

8.     There is no international standard or consensus on what is the best approach to achieve competition in order to enhance economic efficiency and free flow of trade. Some economies have competition laws which differ widely in scope of control, enforcement mechanisms and remedies available. Other economies shun the legislative route. The choice is heavily influenced by the characteristics, development history and socio-economic background of an economy.

9.     For Hong Kong, a small and externally-oriented economy which is already highly competitive, the Government sees no need to enact an all-embracing competition law. To maintain overall consistency in the application of the competition policy, we provide a comprehensive, transparent and over-arching competition policy framework through this Policy Statement and reinforce this with sector-specific measures not limited to laws.

10.     In the Hong Kong environment, the Government is promoting economic efficiency and free trade through competition by -

  1. raising public awareness of the importance of competition for the enhancement of economic efficiency and free trade;

  2. identifying, on a sectoral basis, obstacles and constraints imposed by the Government and other public sector entities which limit market accessibility and contestability and compromise economic efficiency and free trade to the detriment of the overall interest of Hong Kong, and removing them through voluntary, administrative, legislative, etc., measures as appropriate;

  3. initiating pro-competition measures, on a sectoral basis, in the Government and public sector through administrative, legislative, etc., measures as appropriate;

  4. encouraging the private sector to embrace competition and its stated objective of enhancing economic efficiency and free trade through voluntary action;

  5. supporting the Consumer Council's work in drawing up codes of practice that promote competition and its stated objective of enhancing economic efficiency and free trade;

  6. working together with the Consumer Council to encourage the private sector to adopt pro-competition measures, such as self-regulatory regimes that preserve and enhance free competition; and to monitor and review business practices in sectors prone to anti-competition behaviour;

  7. establishing a central repository of competition-related concerns and complaints to facilitate the identification of possible deficiencies and areas for improvement; and

  8. providing a dedicated forum under the Financial Secretary (already established and known as the Competition Policy Advisory Group or "COMPAG" in short) to review policy issues related to competition.

Implementation

11.     The Government is committed to pro-actively nurture and sustain competition for the purpose of enhancing economic efficiency and free trade. COMPAG will invite all government entities to adhere to the Statement, propose initiatives for furthering the policy objective, examine the impact of all new proposals on competition and, where appropriate, bring this to the attention of the Executive Council and the Legislature. They are also expected to ensure that all statutory bodies under their charge pay heed to the Statement as well.

12.     The Government calls upon all businesses to cease existing, and refrain from introducing, restrictive practices that impair economic efficiency or free trade on a voluntary basis. Where justified, the Government will take administrative or legal steps as appropriate to remove such practices if necessary.

13.     Alleged restrictive practices in the public and private sectors may be referred to the concerned policy bureau or government department for consideration. Separately, the COMPAG Secretariat will keep track of all referrals and bring these to the attention of COMPAG should there be substantial policy or systemic implications.

Competition Policy Advisory Group
May 1998


*These are various forms of horizontal restraints among competitors typically for the purpose of raising or fixing prices (so-called "price-fixing"), compressing bid prices ("bid-rigging"), allocating specific customers or sales territories to particular firms and not competing over the territory or customers of other firms ("market allocation"), setting quotas on the supply of certain goods or services in order to push prices up ("sales and production quotas"), and not dealing with firms that supply other firms in their market ("collective boycotts").