Prioritising Socially Sensitive Sectors

Prioritising Socially Sensitive Sectors

On October 9-10, the 8th CUTS-CIRC Biennial Conference on Competition, Regulation and Development was held in New Delhi, India. The theme of this year's event: "Prioritising Socially Sensitive Sectors." The conference was organized by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) jointly with the International BRICS Competition Law and Policy Centre, the CUTS International, the CUTS Institute for Regulation & Competition (CIRC), as well as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European University Institute (EUI). The event precedes the VIII BRICS International Competition Conference, which will be held in New Delhi from 11 to 13 October.

The two-day Biennial Conference took up the aforesaid issues in its five technical sessions – Regulatory Deficit in Access to Healthcare; Food and Agriculture – Trade and Competition; Employment and Gig Economy – Role of Competition and Regulation; Sustainability, Climate Change and Competition Policy; and Responsible ICT and Inclusive Digital Economy. In addition, there was an Inaugural Session featuring a few Keynote Speeches; a Dinner Speech by an eminent personality; and a Valedictory Session where thought leaders chalked out a way forward.

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Convergence of several crises like pandemic, armed conflicts, climate change and the ensuing geopolitical churning are adversely affecting the society, in general, and poorer sects, in particular. Broken supply chains, supply chain abuses, rising inflation, loss of jobs and lack of income opportunities, shortages of food and medicines, faltering infrastructure are some of the social pain points that can be attributed to such crises. All these are adding to the existing socio-economic inequality within and between nations, going against the essence of ‘building back better’ – a call given during the pandemic.

The polity and regulators in their endeavours, therefore, ought to prioritise socially sensitive sectors and issues, such as pharmaceuticals & healthcare, food & agriculture, information & communication, education, jobs etc. In socially sensitive sectors ‘equity’ is as important as ‘investment’ and ‘efficiency’.

Though the COVID-19 global emergency is now over, the threat still remains. Most importantly the lessons from the pandemic demand that governments need to rectify the exposed fault lines in the healthcare sector, so that the world is better prepared for the next such emergencies. Relevant existing domestic and international regulations would also need to be revisited. The Biennial, therefore, delved into some of such regulations that have bearing on competition as well as access to healthcare within and across borders.

Similarly, due to pandemic, climate change and armed conflicts global supply chains are broken, consequently many countries are facing food insecurity. In addition, there are market-distortionary regulatory and non-regulatory practices having negative effects on production and supply of food and agricultural products within and across borders. This Biennial deliberated upon some of such market distortionary practices that adversely affect trade and competition in the food and agriculture sector.

The Biennial will also discuss the grim employment scenario prevalent in most parts of the world, particularly the developing and least developed countries, with special emphasis on the gig economy. The fast-digitalising economies have increased the intake of gig workers or platform workers, which may not squarely fall under the traditional concept of ‘labour’, demanding newer approaches for their welfare. The prevalence of high concentration in the digital platform markets is also being seen as one of the causes for the plight of gig workers.

Further, jurisprudence on “climate change (or sustainable development) and competition policy” is taking shape in the west, particularly in Europe. While there is consensus on the graveness of climate change crisis, there are north-south divide on certain issues related with mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. For instance, green technology transfer is becoming a contentious issue, so is the financing of green transition. There is also a pressing consumer protection issue related with ‘greenwashing’. Some of such important, yet contentious, issues were taken up during the Biennial.

Last but not the least; the Biennial took up some of the burning issues with respect to the fast-changing paradigm of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, such as irresponsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) as well as social media, the blurring line between telecommunication and digital technologies etc. Many countries are discussing domestic regulatory frameworks for emerging technologies and their usage, however, there remains a vacuum vis-à-vis any global framework. Though significant clarity has emerged in the recent past, there are still some unsettled issues with respect to dealing with competition concerns in digital economy.

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