The Department of Justice announced today a new Global Competition Network to improve working relationships with foreign antitrust organizations.
In a speech today at Fordham Corporate Law Institute in New York City, Assistant Attorney General Charles James introduced the initiative and said the U.S., and particularly its European Union counterparts, needed to find more common ground on antitrust.
"From the U.S. perspective, the GCN should be a results-oriented network for antitrust agencies from developed and developing countries to formulate consensus positions on specific proposals for procedural and substantive convergence in antitrust enforcement," James said.
Earlier this year, the DoJ and E.U. had an embarrassing clash over the proposed merger of GE and Honeywell. The Justice Department approved the deal, but the E.U. gave it a thumbs down, effectively derailing the merger.
"What led the U.S. to clear the transaction -- the prospect that it would make the combined firm a more effective competitor -- was the very reason the E.U. opposed it," said James. "The E.U. believed that a more effective GE would discourage its rivals, prompting disinvestment or exit from the market. In sum, we appear to disagree over the meaning of competition."
The U.S. and E.U. are also conducting separate antitrust prosecutions of Microsoft. Some legal experts anticipate the European Commission could ultimately deal more harshly with the software maker since it has the ability to levy large fines.
James said the GCN should not be a rule-making body, but rather a focused forum to discuss specific issues such as merger control and competition advocacy. He added the private sector should play a role in the new organization.
"I believe that businesspeople, members of the private bar, economists, academics and representatives of other international organizations will welcome the opportunity to help the GCN to identify projects, participate in GCN information-gathering exercises and share their views on how GCN projects should proceed," he said.
The group would not be a high-level policy think tank, according to James. He wants specific goals met on clear timetables.