Japan, EU agree on antitrust pact

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Japan and the European Union have agreed in principle to conclude an antitrust cooperation agreement to jointly crack down on cross-border anticompetitive practices by companies, government sources said.

The agreement, which follows a similar deal reached with the United States, will be initiated during a regular meeting of top Japanese and EU leaders in Tokyo in late July, immediately before the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa.

The Japan-EU meeting is to be attended by newly elected Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, French President Jacques Chirac and Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. France will hold the rotating EU presidency during the second half of this year.

Last May, when then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited Washington, he and U.S. President Bill Clinton reached a basic agreement on an antitrust cooperation pact between the two countries.

That pact was signed last October. It went into effect immediately because it is an “administrative arrangement” that does not require ratification by the two countries’ national legislative bodies.

The government sources said the Japan-EU antitrust pact will be almost identical to the Japan-U.S. agreement.

The pact with the U.S. requires the Fair Trade Commission and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to increase exchanges of information on cross-border anticompetitive business practices in both countries.

It also requires Japanese and U.S. antitrust authorities to cooperate in examining merger plans involving multinational companies in the two countries to ensure fair competition.

Both the number of cross-border cartels and mergers involving multinational companies are rising amid rapid globalization.

The Japan-U.S. antitrust pact also permits the U.S. to request that Japan investigate anticompetitive practices by Japanese companies even in Japanese markets if the practices are causing damage to U.S. firms. Japan is obliged to positively consider any such requests.

The EU already has a similar bilateral antitrust pact with the U.S.

“The Japan-EU antitrust cooperation pact would significantly help to crack down on anticompetitive practices and promote fair competition among the world’s three economic powerhouses,” one government source said.