WASHINGTON - U.S. antitrust enforcers plan to hold talks on revamping merger guidelines, they said on Tuesday amid expectations that the Democratic administration will give corporate combinations a tougher review.
The 1992 guidelines explicitly stated that they would be revised from time to time, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said at a conference at the Georgetown University Law Center. We think the time has come to do that.
The FTC and Justice Department share the job of ensuring that mergers do not violate antitrust law.
The announcement comes as the corporate community appears to expect the FTC and Justice Department to be tougher than their Republican predecessors in assessing mergers and the actions of companies that dominate their markets.
Asked if the expectation of tougher review was correct, Leibowitz said, Well, sure.
One sign of a tougher process could be Friday's decision by the Justice Department to urge a New York court to reject a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit that would benefit search engine giant Google's efforts to create a massive online book market.
In his prepared remarks, Leibowitz said the guidelines, as they currently stand, clearly exaggerate the extent to which the agencies follow a single, rigid, step-by-step approach in merger analysis.
In short, when we evaluate mergers, we center our inquiry on one key question: Is the merger under review likely to substantially lessen competition?
Leibowitz said the agencies would consider adding their proposed remedies or fixes for mergers that violate antitrust law.
We are announcing the project now, but do not have a draft, let alone anything to release at this point, said Leibowitz. On the contrary, we are soliciting comments.
The guidelines were adopted in 1968 and revised in 1982 and 1992.
Having guidelines that offer more clarity and better reflect agency practice provides for enhanced transparency and gives businesses greater certainty when making merger decisions, said Christine Varney, assistant attorney general in charge of the Department's Antitrust Division. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)