India’s top competition regulator, the Competition Commission of India, has been leading the charge to modernise the country’s laws to bring them in line with India’s ever-evolving digital business environment. In 2023 alone, the CCI has released draft regulations that revamp the regulator’s approach to merger control, settlement agreements and cartel leniency. At the helm of these changes has been the CCI’s new chairperson, Ravneet Kaur, who took up the top antitrust role in May 2023. Kaur discusses her priorities and ambitions for the CCI, regulation of India’s digital markets, the institution’s new approach to competition regulation and advocacy, as well as lessons learnt and adopted from international antitrust governance bodies across the globe.
ALB: What are your immediate priorities and long-term goals as the new chairperson of the CCI? Can you outline any specific initiatives or reforms you plan to introduce during your tenure to further enhance the CCI’s capabilities as well as competition in the market?
Kaur: Presently, our focus is on finalising regulations by following an open, transparent process of consultations with stakeholders to operationalise the various provisions of the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2023.
Priority is being given to resolving pending cases related to antitrust and mergers and acquisitions. This was crucial given the backlog that had built up due to the lack of quorum before my appointment.
The instrument of market studies will be used increasingly for a better understanding of markets and the potential competition concerns therein. The commission has accorded in-principle approval for setting up a Digital Markets and Data Unit in CCI, which will act as a specialised interdisciplinary centre of expertise for digital markets. The Ravneet Kaur
unit will connect with experts, engage with industry, academia, other regulators/departments, and international agencies, provide inputs on policy issues, support data analytics/management, and undertake any other task assigned to it in the context of digital markets. Other priority areas will continue to evolve in the next few years, and we are committed to acting proactively in all such matters.
Furthermore, it is important to understand that markets are dynamic, and we need to keep a watch and pace with rapid technological advancements and understand their implications for market competition. This includes addressing challenges in areas like digital platforms, big data, and AI. We also need to invest in building institutional knowledge and expertise and updating analytical tools and methodologies for effective enforcement.
ALB: How do you assess the current state of competition in India, and are there particular sectors or industries that the CCI is closely monitoring? Can you comment on any trends or issues related to market competition that you believe need urgent attention or intervention?
Kaur: Assessing the current state of competition in India requires a nuanced understanding of both the broader economic landscape and specific market dynamics. Overall, we observe a healthy and growing competitive environment in India, driven by technological innovation. Presently, we will be focusing on new-age markets to understand their dynamics and potential anti-competitive concerns.
ALB: In the context of emerging technologies and digital markets, how does the CCI plan to adapt its antitrust framework to address new challenges? Are there plans to engage with stakeholders, including tech companies, to ensure a balance between innovation and competition in the market?
Kaur: Digital markets possess unique characteristics that render them susceptible to anti-competitive practices. Network effects, economies of scale, and the significance of data can result in the emergence of dominant players, who may exploit their market power to the detriment of competition and consumers. Against this backdrop, it is imperative to evaluate and, if necessary, recalibrate our approach to competition regulation in the digital economy. Drawing on the experiences and best practices of other jurisdictions is crucial, while also considering the distinctive characteristics of our own economy.
Furthermore, the government has established a Committee on Digital Com-petition Law, signifying a significant step towards ensuring a level playing field in the digital market. This acknowledges the necessity for a specialised approach to addressing the unique challenges posed by digital markets. The Committee has conducted extensive consultations with stakeholders.
ALB: There are new regulations com-ing on merger control, commitment and settlements and cartel leniency. Could you share your expectations from these new rules?
Kaur: Regulations on commitment and settlement processes, as well as leniency-plus regimes introduced through the Competition Amendment Act 2023, will provide a significant impetus to the ease of doing business by reducing litigation through self-reporting and self-correction by enterprises. The Competition Amendment Act 2023 has also introduced the Green Channel route in the statute for the automatic approval of certain categories of mergers and acquisitions. This will expedite the approval process for transactions that are unlikely to harm competition in India.
ALB: Are there any lessons or best practices from international antitrust agencies that you believe could be applied to enhance the CCI’s effectiveness?
Kaur: Engagement with international antitrust agencies plays a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness of these agencies. Such engagement allows for the exchange of best practices and insights. Antitrust issues, particularly in the context of globalisation and digital markets, often have cross-border implications. By interacting with international agencies, we can learn from their experiences, adopt effective strategies, and tailor them to fit our domestic market conditions.
Secondly, such engagement facilitates cooperation in cross-border investigations and enforcement. In today’s interconnected world, many anti-competitive practices have international dimensions. Collaborating with other antitrust agencies helps in coordinating investigations involving multinational companies or global markets, thereby making enforcement actions more effective.
Also, international engagement aids in capacity building. Through workshops, seminars, and training programs conducted in collaboration with international bodies, our staff can stay abreast of the latest developments and techniques in competitive law enforcement. This is vital in dealing with complex issues, especially those arising in dynamic sectors like technology and e-commerce. International engagement reinforces the CCI’s credibility and aligns its practices with global standards. This alignment is crucial for attracting foreign investment and promoting a business-friendly environment in India, as it assures investors of fair and consistent competition enforcement.
We have recently organised the eighth BRICS International Competition Conference. By bringing together representatives and experts from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the conference served as a pivotal platform for discussing critical issues related to antitrust enforcement in emerging economies. The event provided an opportunity for the CCI to share its best practices and learn from the experiences of its counterparts, thereby enhancing its capabilities and strategies in promoting fair competition.