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By Liz Crampton
The Justice Department’s antitrust division plans to continue working with China’s antitrust authorities to strengthen its competition agenda, a top DOJ official said Aug. 30 in Shanghai.
The speech from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roger Alford marks the first international antitrust comments from this administration. Alford noted that Makan Delrahim, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the antitrust division, “intends to make international engagement a priority.”
The efforts to coordinate with China on competition issues began in the Obama administration when Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer led a delegation to China on legal issues.
“Our continued engagement on this topic is significant for competition enforcement,” Alford said. “We are the guardians of strong and vigorous competition for economic prosperity. Our lodestar is to promote competition, not to give preference to specific competitors, even when individual businesses jockey for advantage.”
At a Senate confirmation hearing, Delrahim expressed his interest in international coordination and stressed that thoroughly-vetted economics and legal theories should be the foundation of enforcement. Delrahim, who has yet to receive Senate confirmation, was referring to criticism that foreign countries penalize U.S. companies with antitrust violations as a way to protect their own markets.
China hasn’t been shy about pursuing U.S. companies. In late 2016, China fined General Motors Co. nearly $30 million for antitrust violations after the company was accused of setting minimum prices on some models made by its SAIC Motor Corp./General Motors joint venture.
In his speech, Alford said regulators need to maintain transparency to “enhance trust in our authority as competition enforcers.”
“In a world of rapid change and shifting landscapes, it is critical for competition enforcers to remain steadfast, unbiased, and neutral,” he said. “Political winds may blow, and economic storms may brew, but we must navigate a straight course with eyes fixed on the rule of law, our North Star.”
The comments come as the Justice Department has faced pressure from some members of Congress to keep its independence from the White House. Trump has been criticized for interfering in merger investigations by meeting with CEOs undergoing antitrust reviews. He also made negative statements about the proposed tie-up of AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc., as the are companies waiting for antitrust approval.
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