Agreement between U.S. and Australia Allows for Countries to Share Information and Provide Investigative Assistance
The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice today announced the first antitrust assistance agreement under the International Antitrust Enforcement Assistance Act ("IAEAA") of 1994. The proposed agreement between the United States and Australia is a critical contribution to international antitrust enforcement and is being published today for public comment.
"Efforts to unlawfully monopolize markets and conspiracies to fix prices, rig bids, or otherwise illegally restrain competition often have an international dimension in today’s globalized economy, and effective enforcement often requires evidence from more than one country," said FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky. "Congress adopted the IAEAA to improve our ability to obtain evidence located abroad in antitrust investigations. The proposed agreement between the U.S. and Australia, which we hope will be the first of many with other countries, will help us to protect consumers and the business community from international anticompetitive activities. And it is a two-way street -- it will help Australian authorities to protect Australian consumers as well."
Under the proposed agreement, the FTC, DOJ, and the Australian antitrust enforcement agency -- the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission -- will be able to share information obtained in the course of the agencies’ investigations. The agencies also may provide each other with investigative assistance in order to obtain information, evidence, or testimony for use in antitrust matters. In all instances, the information is subject to strict confidentiality protections and is to be used only for law enforcement purposes.
"Before enactment of the IAEAA, the inability to discuss or share confidential information with foreign antitrust authorities severely limited international cooperation in policing the global marketplace," said Pitofsky. "This new agreement will ensure that information, evidence, and witnesses, which may be in Australia yet needed to prove an antitrust case that hurts U.S. consumers, are available to antitrust officials here. In addition, the agreement ensures secure treatment of confidential information, an important policy for Congress and the U.S. antitrust agencies."
The IAEAA authorizes the FTC and DOJ to negotiate assistance agreements with foreign counterpart agencies. Congress was careful to provide for mutuality -- both countries that are party to an agreement must have comparable authority to provide assistance. Congress also demanded that both countries have laws adequate to protect materials provided in confidence from unauthorized public disclosure. The FTC and DOJ have determined that Australia’s enforcement authority and confidentiality laws meet the IAEAA’s strict requirements. Australia and the U.S. have developed a cooperative and productive relationship, both under a 1982 bilateral cooperation agreement and through participation in institutions like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The proposed agreement announced today is an important step forward in international antitrust enforcement because it allows the authorities in the U.S. and Australia to share non-public information and give each other investigatory assistance.
As mandated by the IAEAA, the proposed agreement does not allow the U.S. antitrust agencies to share information that firms provide them when the agencies review mergers under their premerger notification programs.
The Commission vote to publish the Federal Register notice was 5-0.
Comments on the proposed agreement will be placed on the public record and on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site. They are due 45 days after publication of the comments on the proposed agreement in the Federal Register. Comments should be identified as "U.S./Australia IAEAA Comment," and addressed to the Office of the Secretary, Federal Trade Commission, Room 159, Sixth and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
Copies of the Federal Register notice are available from the FTC’s web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File P829612)
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Competition
Debra A. Valentine