A NEW working group comprising five competition authorities, including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, is boosting global efforts to prevent collusion in international trade.

The ACCC has joined the US Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Canadian Competition Bureau; the NZ Commerce Commission; and the UK Competition and Markets Authority to prevent anti-competitive conduct from occurring in the supply and distribution of goods.

The working group complements several existing co-operation agreements between competition agencies in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand.

The Five Eyes competition authorities’ partnerships are designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of competition investigations across multiple jurisdictions.

Focusing on illegal conduct in global supply chains, the new working group is responding to the pandemic-induced disruptions which have led to higher freight rates.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said the international partnership was necessitated by the global nature of the supply chain network, which spans many jurisdictions.

As such, the detection of anti-competitive conduct requires international co-operation.

“COVID-19 has caused the supply chain disruptions the world is currently experiencing, but the purpose of this working group is to detect any attempts by businesses to use these conditions as a cover to work together and fix prices,” Mr Sims said.

“We will be sharing intelligence to identify any behaviour that restricts or distorts competition, and companies are now on notice that the ACCC and its international counterparts will be ready to act.”

Mr Sims said the disruptions are attributed to increased demand for containerised cargo and heavy congestion across the global supply chain.

He said freight rates on key global trade routes are currently around seven times higher than they were two years ago, with goods becoming increasingly expensive for consumers.

“Australia is an open, trade-exposed economy, and like the other international agencies in this working group, we have a very strong interest in preserving strong competitive markets for global trade,” Mr Sims said.

Monitoring for anti-competitive conduct, the group will be watching for cartels and other activities that materially impact competition, such as exclusionary arrangements by firms with market power.