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antitrust policy

Opening markets: Mexico uncovers and slashes local barriers to competition

Marialisa Motta's picture

In the state of Chiapas, Mexico — where nearly 1 million people live in moderate to extreme poverty — bus fares have been too high, and the availability of buses has been limited. Over four years, consumers on a single route have paid $2.5 million more than necessary. Tortillas in states across Mexico are more expensive than they need to be. In one state, firms overcharge for road construction by an estimated 15 percent, making it difficult to provide the high-quality transport services for cargo and construction materials that are necessary to build a logistics hub to diversify the state economy beyond petroleum. Another state has a very dynamic economy, hosting a greater density of industrial parks than comparable states. Given the positive spillover effects — industrial activity boosting local employment, demand, and purchasing power — the state expected growth in retail markets. Yet, stores have not been opening. Yet another state relies on tourism to generate business opportunities and jobs, including for poor people. However, until recently, tourists found that commercial establishments in the state’s primary municipality closed in the evenings and at night, often preventing them from going shopping.
 
What do these examples have in common? Local barriers to competition.

In the past few years, the Mexican Federal Competition Authority (COFECE) and Better Regulation Authority (COFEMER), internationally recognized institutions, as well as the World Bank Group, have pointed out that subnational regulations restrict competition in local markets. In many municipalities in Mexico, regulations and government interventions allow market incumbents to deny entry to new firms, to coordinate prices, to impose minimum distances between outlets, or to grant incumbents exclusive rights to artificially protect their dominant position. In total, a lack of vigorous marketplace competition costs the Mexican economy about one percentage point of GDP growth each year – a shortfall that affects the country’s poorest households by an estimated 20 percent more than its richest households. Most countries, however, have never systematically scrutinized local barriers to competition.


 
To address such issues effectively, competition policy experts from the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice have developed an innovative tool – the Subnational Market Assessment of Competition (SMAC) – to systematically identify, prioritize and support the removal of local barriers to competition. (The SMAC is built from the World Bank Group Markets and Competition Policy Assessment Tool, or MCPAT.) The World Bank Group designed the SMAC to prioritize the reform of the rules and practices that most severely prevent healthy competition in the primary sectors for each state’s economic development.

Breaking down barriers to competition: Unlocking Africa’s potential through a regional platform for cooperation

Klaus Tilmes's picture



The cement industry in Africa is one of the sectors that would benefit from stronger competition policies, which can help strengthen the economy by preventing anti-competitive behavior and collusive price-fixing. 
Photo by Simon Davis / DFID — U.K. Department of International Development

What determines whether a country is able to reap the benefits of deepening regional integration and the related increases in trade, cross-border investment and economic opportunities from participating in global value chains? One of the key points in this timely discussion is ensuring that the gains from integration are not nullified by anticompetitive business practices or distortive government interventions. As economies become more interconnected, it will become ever more important to allow all businesses to compete on a level playing field. Some African economies, for example, have not benefited as expected, in part because of the continued existence of barriers to competition in domestic markets.

These concerns lie at the heart of a new publication developed by the World Bank Group in partnership with the African Competition Forum (ACF). The report explores competition issues that affect the performance of key markets in Africa, and it reviews the status of competition policy and its implementation across the continent. It is the first report to take a broad regional perspective on competition issues – and the first to be built on a partnership between the World Bank Group and a regional network of government agencies and ministries responsible for competition.

Among its findings, the report shows that reforms in input sectors, such as professional services, can boost the export competitiveness of downstream firms that use those inputs intensively. However, in many cases, trade is restricted when governments impose non-tariff barriers, including product standards or testing regimes that are more restrictive than necessary, which prevent the entry of new, lower-cost products. This is the case with fertilizer markets in both East and West Africa. Even when such non-tariff barriers are removed, it is important to prevent anti-competitive behavior, such as collusive price-fixing and market-allocation agreements among competitors – as was seen in the case of cement in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

The report also highlights that, in some sectors in Africa, the same firms operate in many countries and some firms may locate themselves in areas that allow them to supply markets across borders. These factors hold potential efficiencies – for example, where it leads to economies of scale – but it also makes it vital to view competition dynamics through a regional lens as well as a national one.