COMESA @ 10: CCC Keynote address by Bill Kovacic

The booming voice of eminent antitrust scholar and GW Law professor Bill Kovacic easily surmounted the small technical microphone glitches at COMESA’s celebration of its Competition Commission’s first 10 years in Malawi (#CCCat10years), giving the keynote address.

His accessible speech, given in front of a diverse audience comprised of senior ministers and policy makers, lawyers, enforcers, and media representatives, focused on practical examples covering three key topics of public expenditures, subsidies, and the removal of entry barriers.

On state spending, he noted the attendant “global epidemic of collusion and corruption”, in areas as simple, but important to development, as transportation infrastructure. “We don’t always need to debate ‘digital markets’ or ‘big tech’, we can also highlight the importance of basic road-building on increasing trade and measurably growing economies” across Africa. But these areas of public expenditures are invariably hampered by corrupt or collusive tendering and similar cartel conduct — important focus areas for the COMESA CCC to enforce.

In the area of public subsidies, Kovacic proposed a future collaborative working relationship between antitrust enforcers, legislators, and those ministries that allocate state subsidies, ideally to non-incumbents (giving the NASA vs. Space-X example to make his point) so as to enhance market entry.

The CCC should enhance market access by making barriers to entry “more porous” for newer small competitors, with Kovacic using the famous 1982 Bell Telephone/AT&T U.S. antitrust precedent to highlight the practical value of competition law to society and innovation of new, better, and cheaper products and services.