Updates to competition guidelines proposed

No major competition issues were identified in the local e-commerce sector despite worries over industry players expanding into multiple market segments, a study by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) found.

But there is a need to provide more clarity to businesses in the digital space to help ensure that they do not engage in anti-competitive conduct, the commission said in proposing updates to competition guidelines yesterday.

One such update would be factoring the control of data into how the commission assesses the market power of an online platform.

Other proposed changes, which are open for public consultation, include clearer guidance on issues relating to the CCCS' assessment of mergers.

E-commerce platforms that compete in multiple market segments are becoming more prevalent in Singapore and elsewhere in South-east Asia, which may make conduct that is harmful to competition more likely, the CCCS said in a report on the study.

It noted the rise in "super apps", with firms such as Grab offering a range of services, including e-payment, marketplaces, ride-hailing and food delivery services within a single mobile app.

Such e-commerce platforms could leverage their market power from one segment to another by enforcing exclusivity agreements and giving preferential treatment to their own products and services.

This could be an issue if it harmed competition, the CCCS said, though the study found little evidence of such conduct by e-commerce players in Singapore thus far.

The access to and use of data is also something that the report highlighted as a key consideration in the e-commerce sector.

The importance of data is likely to grow over time, the CCCS noted, as it becomes increasingly intertwined with artificial intelligence and algorithms.

"Data could increasingly become a key input, in view of the increasing prominence that data has in informing an e-commerce platform's business strategy," the report said.

A dominant company's refusal to provide a competitor access to data may thus constitute abusive conduct, it said.

Tiffany Fumiko Tay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2020, with the headline 'Updates to competition guidelines proposed'. Print Edition | Subscribe