While the ECOWAS competition regime is not new in and of itself (it was adopted in 2008), the actual operationalization of the ECOWAS Regional Competition Authority (ERCA) is — its inaugural ceremony in took place this past Tuesday in The Gambia, 11 years after its technical launch (although it was established jointly with the adoption of the ECOWAS competition legislation, it remained non-operational for over a decade). Its mission is to enforce the multi-national body’s Regional Competition Policy Framework (RCPF).
ERCA’s efforts will be supported by the twin launch of the ECOWAS technical committee meeting of national trade and competition representatives to assist in implementing the RCP, including both its competition/antitrust as well as consumer protection mandates.
ERCA is a specialized, autonomous quasi-judicial body designed to help promote regional economic growth and competitiveness in the ECOWAS common market.
Andreas Stargard, a competition law practitioner with a focus on African antitrust issues, noted that the ECOWAS rules, while not enforced in practice until now, will reflect more of a European approach to competition regulation, as “they include provisions to evaluate and render invalid certain types of governmental support for domestic champion companies and industries, akin to the EU model of ‘state aid’ rules, which do not always form part of antitrust regimes globally. This makes sense, in our view, in the African context, however, as most domestic economies on the continent have long been subject to state-owned monopoly enterprises and so-called national champions — one need not look further than the various large African state-owned airlines, for example.”
He concluded that two key issues remain to be seen, once ERCA launches its first investigations and brings enforcement actions: “First, with the increasing number of regional enforcers, how will jurisdictional overlaps be resolved, both regional/national, as well as regional/regional, conflict? Many ECOWAS members are also part of other African multi-national organizations that have some form of competition or consumer protection regulations as part of their mandate, such as the west African monetary union. Second, what will the be the degree — if any — of ‘public interest’ considerations that may be in play for the 15-member state body’s antitrust enforcement, perhaps copying many of its African sister commissions’ approach…”
In its Strategic Plan over the next 3 years, the GCCPC indicates that it purposefully did not identify any priority sectors, to allow it to commit to investigating prohibited practices regardless of the market or its size. The Minister endorsed this approach given the need for independent agencies like the GCCPC to ensure that the competition playing field is leveled, that barriers to entry are low and that “the rules of the game” are reasonable. The Minister continued that simply having competition regime cannot produce or ensure competition in the market unless this is facilitated by government policies and enforcement.
Sectoral Market Inquiries: As in South Africa, whose Competition Commission has launched its first-ever market inquiry into the state of competition in the healthcare sector in terms of the Competition Amendment Act of 2009, the GCCPC is also empowered to launch “market studies” under section 15(k) of the Gambian Competition Act. A market study enables the GCCPC to consider both policies and enforcement simultaneously, thereby promoting competition in the economy, according to the Minister. The Minister explained that the aim of the market study was to assess competition in a particular area and recommend ways of improving it to the benefit of the economy and consumers in general.
As noted in our prior reporting, the Minister spoke at the opening of a workshop on the “Tourism Market Study” and to bring the concept of competition law closer to home, he placed emphasis on the increasing awareness about competition law within the tourism fraternity, forums such as the workshop will contribute substantially to the spread of competition culture and improving levels of compliance of the Competition Act, which would be beneficial both for the economy as well as individual businesses.
Abdou Kolley, Minister of Trade and Employment, gave a Tuesday speech addressing his competition agency’s tourism market study, undertaken according to section 15(k) of the Competition Act, attempting to garner support for the benefits of free-market competition. “Competition does not emerge on its own”, noting that the GCCPC’s enforcement and oversight activities were necessary to lower entry barriers and assure the absence of illegal price-fixing and other illicit conduct.
“The GCCPC is mandated by the competition Act 2007 to pursue any evidence of cartels, abuses of dominance and other illegal anti-competitive activities in any sector of the economy and I am confident that they will continue to do so.”
The Director General of the Gambia Tourism Board, Benjamin Robert, was quoted as agreeing with the minister, saying that the GCCPC’s report was “timely” and noted that the domestic tourism industry possessed certain characteristics of dominance in some sectors, with over 50% market share by some market players.
The Gambian Competition Commission has changed its name and enlarged its mandate
With the passage of Consumer Protection Act 2014, the Gambia Competition Commission has changed its name to The Gambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (GCCPC). The rationale for inclusion of the broader task of consumer protection (in addition to antitrust enforcement of the Competition Act of 2007) was, perhaps somewhat analogous to other sister agencies worldwide (e.g., the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which likewise has a similar dual mandate), described as follows by the the minister for
Trade and Industry, Abdou Kolley:
“Trade goes with competition, and where there is trade there is a need for consumer protection.”
In addition to the GCCPC, the Act envisages the establishment of consumer-protection tribunals throughout The Gambia’s administrative regions to hear and adjudicate consumer-protection complaints.