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Big Tech in sharper focus for new Japan antitrust team

  • April 1, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 4:25 a.m.
  • English Press

SATSUKI KANEKO, Nikkei staff writer

 

 

TOKYO — Japan’s Fair Trade Commission will beef up reviews of mergers and acquisitions in the tech field, creating a new department to make faster judgments on a deal’s impact on competition.

 

The team of several dozen people to be established Friday will focus on economic analysis, a tool used to examine concerns about potential monopolies and help determine whether to open antitrust investigations.

 

Economic analysis has become a key tool for antitrust authorities trying to keep pace with the tech industry’s rapidly evolving business models. Online services that lock in user data, touting convenience, can create formidable barriers to new entrants.

 

While the FTC already had a market analysis team, members held multiple roles and were often assigned to other cases.

 

The U.S. Fair Trade Commission’s Bureau of Economics, which handles market analysis, employs 80 economists with doctorate degrees. Japan’s FTC has only a handful of economists on the analysis team. The Japanese watchdog will look to bolster its ranks with private-sector economists and Western-educated specialists.

 

The FTC screens about 300 merger proposals a year. It has used economic analysis to screen past deals, including the merger between Yahoo Japan parent Z Holdings and chat app operator Line, which was approved in August 2020.

 

Economic analysis can help in other types of antitrust investigations, such as the FTC’s probe into Apple requiring digital content in its App Store use Apple’s own payment platform. In this investigation, which was opened in 2016, the team handling the probe partnered with the market analysis team to conduct a survey of users.

 

This tool can play a defensive role as well. The agency has needed to bolster its analysis capabilities to counter assessments commissioned by companies to justify moves that raise potential antitrust concerns. Economic analyses can also serve as evidence in court when a business appeals a penalty imposed by the FTC.

 

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