Below, we have provided the full transcript of the interview with Mahmoud Momtaz, Chair of the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA), recorded on July 28, 2021.
This is part of a series of videos that CPI is producing where we will interview the heads of various NCAs all around the world.
Thank you, Dr. Mahmoud, for sharing your time for this interview with CPI.
A video of the complete interview is available HERE.
Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in for another one of our exclusive talks with the heads of Competition Authorities from around the world. Today, we have the pleasure to have with us Dr. Mahmoud Momtaz, chairman of the Egyptian’s Competition Authority. Good morning Dr. Mahmoud, and thank you for accepting our invite and being with us today.
Thank you for the invitation, it’s always a pleasure to be with you.
I’d like to kick off today’s interview by asking how’s your competition authority dealt with the pandemic crisis, and are there any learning experiences that you would like to share with us today?
Sure. As all the world have seen, the pandemic posed a lot of changes in our priorities and our policies, to make sure that we really have a positive impact in the market, make sure that monopolistic practices are put away, if there’s any barriers to entry in terms of competition in the imported markets, such as the healthcare sector or the food sector, which are essential to the general public. That was our main goal to focus on, the products that the general public see as essential. And from that, of course, the ECA built its strategy on three main pillars which i:, one is competition enforcement. Two, is pro-competitive regulations and competitive neutrality. And the third is competition culture.
Under these three pillars of the ECA’s strategy, we actually tackled several methods. So we looked at, for example, the license and the regulation concerning licensing of ethanol hand sanitizers. And we actually commenced advocacy with the relevant stakeholders what meant certain requirements, arbitrary requirements, for the entry of new market players in this market, in ethanol hand sanitizers. This has proven very successful, and new market players entered into the markets, and of course was helping on employment and on prices of hand sanitizers in the market. That’s on the regulatory part, so that’s one example, I would say.
We also own the enforcement part. We had several cases into the healthcare markets. In hospitals, we had also agreements, cartel agreements. We found agreement of increasing prices. And we also managed to look into such agreements also, and to the x-rays and the prices on x-rays, and so on. Also we had a case, a cartel case in that market. So I believe these are couple of examples that we really see very beneficial, and we saw a positive impact in the market through the intervention of ECA to these markets.
And is there any particular achievement that you would like to mention or underline?
Actually yeah, the achievement for us is basically making markets work. So making sure that markets are working properly, competitively, this is the main aim. In purpose, I mentioned the part on the advocacy part or mentioning that the anticompetitive practice, because we believe that advocacy have a very strong impact on markets, and removing any barriers stemming from regulations or decisions by the government is as important as tackling anticompetitive practices. And this is a lesson that we learned long time ago and we still pose as an essential pillar in our strategy, that we focus also on advocacy and policies in the markets. This was actually a lesson for us, and I think it could be conveyed to other competition authorities or young competition authorities, that advocacy may have a very good impact, as equal as tackling anticompetitive practice.
And let me turn now to the tech sector, key player during the pandemic crisis, but also under strict scrutiny by most competition authorities around the world. What’s your view on the challenges posed by the tech sector, and do you think there is a need for reform?
Definitely the tech sector, as you mentioned, has taken great steps or huge steps actually due to the pandemic, and that poses on us at the ECA a very crucial question. Do we really need, as you mentioned, reform of our competition law with regard to such issue, or the current provisions of the law are enough to tackle such risks, or anticompetitive risks, if I may say? Until today, we believed we need to really understand the dynamic of this market. We don’t want to… what’s called over-enforcement, do any over-enforcement or type one error into the market because we believe the over-enforcement may disrupt the market even more, and may hinder creativity.
But, we still would put these markets on the very monitoring assessment that we do on a continuous basis. For example, we did investigate Uber and Careem, which are the main ride-hailing companies that had a recent merger back in 2019. We also focused on the delivery food apps, which we had also a case, like that case in that market. And we still have ongoing cases in different digital markets in that regard. So until now, we didn’t see the need for a reform of our law in that, to tackle the digital economy. But we still, we’re looking, learning, seeing what’s going to happen, and then we can decide on that.
So basically tech sector is under your radar, but no need for reform so far. Let me now go back to something you mentioned at the very beginning of the interview, but I just want to emphasize this once more. Is there any particular industry that you think deserve antitrust scrutiny and attention?
Of course. So, as I mentioned, healthcare is one. We also have the food sector, where we also have a couple of cases, and the fertilizers markets. This was a very big case where we have also found the cartel in both the production market and in the distribution market. Currently also we’re focusing on the automotive sector and the school uniform sector. Both are very important, I believe, for Egyptians, and we believe that it’s important to have clear guidance on both. So we focus on enforcement, yes. And also we provide also in the making of guidelines for the automotive sector, especially in the aftermarkets, because we believe also the aftermarkets is a very important market in terms of servicing and spare parts, et cetera, for the general public.
That being said, we’re also currently working on revamping our compliance toolkits for businesses, to make sure that businesses do understand clearly what are the “dos and don’ts,” and to hinder any anticompetitive practice that can be done not knowing that this is an infringement to the competition law.
And this leads us to the last question: what’s, in your view, the future direction of antitrust enforcement, both domestically and internationally?
I believe that collaboration between different competition authorities around the world is really crucial, and vital due to the viewing of cross-border cartels and cross-border merger cases that occurs. Currently it’s important that competition agency come together and learn from each other experience. Not only the far developed agencies, but also the agencies that are young agency. There is a lot in African region or the Middle East/North African region that one can learn from. And that’s what’s important, important of learning from peers and also collaborating with peers to try to build a common understanding of competition policy, and to end any anticompetitive practice that could occur across borders.
Thank you, Dr. Mahmoud, this has been extremely informative. Thank you so much for sharing the Egyptian experience with our audience. Thank you.
Thank you so much, and it’s been a pleasure. Thank you.