Encouraging Innovation in International Competition and Consumer Protection Through Global Engagement

On September 11, 2020, Meridian hosted a virtual  Diplocraft  session  with Commissioner Noah Phillips of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and  Teresa Moreira, Head of the Competition and Consumer Policies Branch at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  The conversation moderated by Ambassador Piper Campbell, Advisory Committee Member for the Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement, focused on describing the mandate of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and how the  U.S. government agency works with foreign counterparts to support its national competition and consumer protection missions. 

Below are the top takeaways from the conversation:   

  1. WHAT DOES THE FTC DO? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States Government established in 1914 and led by five Commissioners, who are appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress. Its mission focuses on protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education. The FTC established its Office of International Affairs (OIA) in 2007 to strengthen relationships with foreign competition and consumer protection agencies. The office currently has 18 MOU’s with other competition agencies and multinational organizations, and 22 MOU’S with Data Protection Authorities and Consumer Protection Authorities.
  2. FACILITATING INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE. Harnessing the power of people-to-people exchange, the FTC hosts officials, ranging from economists and lawyers to investigators, from other countries and also sends its own staff abroad to provide training, encourage cross-border cooperation, and learn best practices of consumer protection, privacy and competition. A recent example includes Mr. Ryohei Yoshinari, Assistant Director, International Affairs Division at the Japan Fair Trade Commission, who completed a fellowship with the FTC as part of the Global Government-to-Government Partnership, which Meridian facilitates on behalf of the U.S. Department of State. More information on the International Fellows programs and ways that the FTC can support global cooperation can be found here.
  3. SHARING OF INFORMATION. There are numerous international networks that address competition and consumer protection issues; the FTC serves as a resource to many of them. As Teresa Moreira highlighted, organizations such as UNCTAD benefit from the FTC’s sharing of public documents that provide useful competition and consumer protection information that organizations can use as a framework to translate and adapt to their specific needs. For example, the FTC has played a leading role in the African Consumer Protection Dialogue Conference for over a decade. The Conference brings together African consumer protection authorities to collaborate and share information and resources for them to best understand and implement effective policies. Other examples include the International Competition Network and the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network.
  4. CONSUMER PROTECTION AND COMPETITON ENFORCEMENT AMIDST COVID-19. As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, the FTC shares its experience on striking the right balance between allowing the market to adapt to changed circumstances and continuing to be vigilant in protecting consumers from anticompetitive or abusive practices. In the context of scarcity and supply chain interruptions, governments have the tendency to condemn increases in price. However, such increases can be useful market signals that induce new entry such that the market can self-correct. At the same time, when companies seek to merge or collaborate in the face of declining markets brought on by a crisis, competition agencies must not yield to the temptation to allow transactions and conduct that could result in long-term anticompetitive harm to consumers. On the consumer protection front, the agency has worked closely with its international counterparts to combat advertisements for unproven COVID-19 products and treatments. 
  5. DATA PROTECTION. While the FTC is primarily known for its mandate over competition and consumer protection, Commissioner Phillips highlighted the agency’s role as the de facto data protection authority in the United States. The FTC conducts its data protection work both by using its organic statute that prohibits unfair and deceptive conduct and a host of sector-specific federal laws. For example, the FTC brought an enforcement action against Facebook, resulting in a settlement that includes payment of civil penalties of $5 billion and requires the company to restructure their board to promote privacy and make other changes to the company to better account for consumer privacy. FTC has also brought cases against TikTok, and Google as the parent corporation of YouTube. Commissioner Phillips characterized the issue of data portability as topical and noted that the FTC will be hosting a September 22 workshop on: Data To Go: An FTC Workshop on Data Portability for anyone interested in learning more. 

BONUS: COOPERATION AND ENGAGEMENT CONTINUES. Despite concerns about trends leading to a less globalized world, both Commissioner Philips and Ms. Moreira have found competition and consumer protection to be two areas where international cooperation remains robust. These issues can transcend nationalism and politics, while remaining consistent across administrations, indicating that countries should be confident in investing in collaboration with the U.S. In fact, Ms. Moreira noted that over the past six months consumer protection agencies have significantly increased information exchanges and has developed guidelines to identify the best policy initiatives and opportunities for joint work. Finally, the Commissioner encouraged the diplomatic community to consider contacting their domestic competition, consumer protection and privacy authorities to promote further cross border coordination. 

 Meridian International Center  is a non-partisan diplomacy center that strengthens U.S. engagement with the world and accelerates collaboration through the exchange of people, culture and ideas.  The Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement  hosts the regular series of  Diplocraft  programs for diplomats to hear from and interact with organizations and individuals on the front lines of political, social, security and economic issues in Washington and beyond. This series includes policy deep dives, peer networking opportunities and navigating Washington seminars. 

Project summary

Encouraging Innovation in International Competition and Consumer Protection Through Global Engagement | September 2020
Number of Attendees: 23
Regions: East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East and North Africa, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Australia, Costa Rica, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine
Impact Areas: Business and Trade, Foreign Policy
Program Areas: Convening