Amid the ongoing transformation of society through digitization, the Fair Trade Commission has an increasingly important role to play in protecting the interests of the public.
Former Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuyuki Furuya, who originally served at the Finance Ministry, has assumed the post of the chairman of the FTC.
His predecessor, Kazuyuki Sugimoto, held the post for 7½ years and raised the presence of the commission through such measures as regulations on IT giants.
“We will deal strictly with the anti-competitive behavior of IT giants,” Furuya said at a press conference. It is hoped that the new chairman will demonstrate his skills at resolving issues while following Sugimoto’s path.
In addition to cracking down on bid-rigging and cartels, the FTC also examines corporate mergers to ensure they will not lead to oligopolies and put consumers at a disadvantage.
In the past goods-oriented economy, it was sufficient to look at the market shares of products, but the market structure has changed with the emergence of the IT giants known as “GAFA,” which includes Google and Amazon.
Huge amounts of data are accumulated by the IT giants, which run online shopping and search sites. This has led to improvements in the quality of services and more customers, accelerating their monopolization of the market.
The FTC must protect consumers and businesses by preventing oligopolistic firms from engaging in such activities as imposing unilateral conditions on their business partners and using personal information without permission.
As IT giants have overwhelming control in the digital advertising business, the actual state of the sector remains opaque. It is essential that the FTC examine the matter.
The revival of regional economies, which are suffering from declining populations, will also require competitive policies that are not bound by traditional values.
In 2016, the FTC stopped the business integration of Fukuoka City-based Fukuoka Financial Group, Inc., which has a bank in Nagasaki Prefecture under its umbrella, and Nagasaki City-based Eighteenth Bank, and the review process was protracted.
It may be more important for regional areas to strengthen their banking base through consolidation than to worry about regional monopolies.
In November, a special law that works in tandem with the Antimonopoly Law will take effect, aimed at encouraging the realignment of regional banks. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been promoting the need to realign regional banks, and the FTC needs to utilize a flexible approach that takes into account the situation in regional areas.
The economic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus has made it more likely for the burden to be shifted from large companies to small and medium-sized companies.
Furuya says he will focus on curbing the “bullying of subcontractors” by large corporations. As ways of working diversify, the new chairman also cited as one of his tasks the development of an environment that protects freelance workers, who are in a weak position.
The new FTC chairman must do his best to implement measures that pay attention to the vulnerable members of society.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 20, 2020.