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10 key themes

Ten years of looking ahead

Welcome to the 10th edition of our annual review of the antitrust landscape.

The world has changed dramatically since we published our first 10 Key Themes in Global Antitrust a decade ago. Then, big tech looked very different to today, globalisation was widely accepted as the model for the international economy and climate change was further down the political agenda.

Policy priorities, investment flows and consumer preferences have all shifted since 2010, while businesses are increasingly interconnected and enforcement continues to increase globally. That’s why – as we enter the third decade of the 21st century – a sophisticated understanding of the antitrust environment is more important than ever.

A data society

The last decade has been marked by rapid advances in technology and innovation. Much of this revolves around sharing personal information, enabling the development of valuable products and services. While for many people this is a hugely beneficial development, antitrust regulators are concerned that it has led to power being concentrated in a small number of hands.

The question now is how politicians and enforcement authorities will act to preserve markets and innovation – and protect privacy and choice – in the future. 

The EU has acknowledged that the boundaries between competition, consumer protection and privacy have become blurred, with new Commission president Ursula von der Leyen reappointing antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager to an expanded brief that covers not just competition enforcement but also the regulation of the digital economy.

The 2020 US presidential candidates and members of Congress from both parties are also vowing to reinvigorate antitrust enforcement in the digital arena and are proposing new legislation.

Concerns about under-enforcement and so-called killer acquisitions, coupled with important reviews into tech which concluded in 2019, have resulted in calls for more rapid enforcement.

We believe that throughout 2020 and beyond remedies sought by antitrust enforcers will become more consumer-focused, with moves to promote greater transparency, easier switching between services (including greater data portability) and the ending of the customer loyalty penalty.

A sustainable society

As the range of green products and services widens, so producers will need to agree common standards to help consumers make informed and sustainable choices.

And with the most challenging aspects of climate change requiring collaboration between businesses, those involved will need to test the historically narrow approach to consumer welfare or public good used to justify past collaborations in order to deliver wider public policy goals, including carbon reduction. 

A new world order

Ongoing trade disputes between the US, China and the EU have led some analysts to conclude that we are entering a deglobalised age.

Governments are introducing new rules (or making greater use of existing frameworks) to protect strategic technologies and build national champions. The use of antitrust rules and foreign investment regimes to control cross-border deals will be a key trend to watch over the months and years to come.

With technology increasingly in enforcers’ sights, the climate emergency front and centre and international relations more strained than ever, 2020 promises to be a testing year for businesses, politicians and regulators alike.

We will, as ever, be keeping a close eye on developments. We will be hosting a number of events exploring the shifting antitrust landscape throughout the year, so if you are interested in joining the discussion please speak to your usual contact in our antitrust, competition and trade team.

On behalf of the entire team at Freshfields, best wishes for 2020 – we hope it will be a prosperous and fulfilling one for you all.

Thomas Janssens
Global Head, Antitrust, Competition and Trade Group

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