Lina Khan, candidate for commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, speaks during a Senate confirmation hearing, April 21, 2021.

Graeme Jennings/Washington Examine via AP, Pool, File

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. competition regulators have moved to strengthen enforcement against illegal mergers, in line with President Joe Biden’s mandate for closer scrutiny of large business combinations.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday that they are seeking public comment on how current merger guidelines can be updated to better detect and prevent illegal and anti-competitive agreements in a market. more and more consolidated companies. The agencies stress the importance of vigorous competition for the economy, workers, consumers and small businesses.

“Our country depends on competition to drive progress, innovation and prosperity,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who heads the Justice Department’s antitrust division. “We need to understand why so many industries have too few competitors and think carefully about how to ensure our merger enforcement tools are fit for the modern economy.”

In their request for public input on mergers, regulators are pushing for a broader definition of anti-competitive conduct. They said they were interested in aspects of competition that current merger guidelines might ignore, such as the impact on labor markets and other non-price issues, such as innovation and quality. Regulators are also looking for specific examples of mergers that have harmed competition.

“Today, the DOJ and FTC should begin to steer the US government back to freedom and fair democracy. The government’s antimonopoly guidelines provide a critical statement on how regulators view the nature of power,” Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute, said in a statement. The group advocates for stricter antitrust regulations.

The trend towards concentration began with a merger boom in the 1980s in corporate America that boosted the profits of dominant firms. Decisions made by Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 15 years have enabled most major mergers to materialize.

Regulators noted on Tuesday that the wave of mergers underway was reflected in companies’ applications for regulatory approvals, which more than doubled from 2020 to 2021.

The latest jaw-dropping merger proposal landed on Tuesday, with news that Microsoft is paying nearly $70 billion for Activision Blizzard, maker of Candy Crush and Call of Duty, as it seeks an edge in the fiercely competitive business of the mobile game and virtual reality. Technology.

The $68.7 billion cash deal must pass the scrutiny of US and European regulators in the coming months. If approved, it would turn Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming system, into one of the biggest video game companies in the world.

Biden issued a sweeping executive order in July that exposed outsized market power in sectors including big tech, health care, airlines and agriculture. Biden said the actions he called for would lower prices for families, raise wages for workers and spur innovation and faster economic growth. The order includes 72 actions and recommendations for federal agencies, which must translate its policy into rules.

As fewer larger players control more of various markets, prices charged that exceed business costs have tripled, according to the White House, leading to higher prices for families for basic necessities such as prescription drugs, hearing aids and internet services.

Tuesday’s announcement was made by Kanter and Lina Khan, the head of the FTC. Kanter, an antitrust attorney who has opposed giant tech companies in private practice, took over Justice’s antitrust division in November. Khan, who became FTC chief in June, was an outspoken critic of Big Tech before entering government.

Kanter will likely pursue prosecution in a landmark antitrust case against Google filed by Trump’s Justice Department in October 2020, accusing the company of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising.

The FTC, meanwhile, is pursuing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, now called Meta, claiming the tech giant is a monopoly in the social media market. The agency is seeking solutions that could include a forced spinoff of the company’s popular messaging services Instagram and WhatsApp, or an overall restructuring.

In a major antitrust action, the Justice Department sued in November to block Penguin Random House’s proposed $2.2 billion acquisition of Simon & Schuster of German media giant Bertelsmann, already the biggest publisher of American books. Regulators said industry consolidation would hurt authors and, ultimately, readers, giving Penguin Random House “outsized influence” over books published in the United States and over authors’ pay.

In another action last fall, the Justice Department challenged American Airlines’ partnership with JetBlue, saying it could bring higher airfares.

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