COVID-19: The Commerce Commission's response
Kia ora tatou
COVID-19 brings with it significant challenges for our economy, for businesses and for New Zealanders. These are unprecedented times and we wanted to get in touch to let you know what we are going to do to try to make things a little easier.
No business in New Zealand should feel constrained from doing the right thing for their customers, the safety of their staff and New Zealanders. The Commission plans to take a pragmatic approach in relation to enforcement across all of the laws that we enforce. We have provided some detail in specific areas below but will also be releasing more guidance on our website in the coming days.
We recognise that the situation with COVID-19 in New Zealand is constantly changing and evolving. This is happening too quickly for us to use our standard regulatory tools to vary any of the regimes that we enforce. As a result, we intend to be pragmatic in our approach to enforcement where companies can demonstrate that any compliance issues have arisen as a consequence of prioritising efforts to protect customers, security of supply and safety or as a consequence of factors entirely outside of the company’s control. We would appreciate all regulated industries keeping us informed of any decisions that they make that may lead them to breach their requirements.
In the coming days we expect to ease regulatory reporting processes to relieve pressure on those working with these processes. We recognise that over time there are likely to be impacts on productivity and staff availability due to illness or self-isolation so we will be extending timeframes.
COVID-19 is likely to have further impacts on our work programme and once we have greater clarity on what those impacts are and our response to them, we will provide you with an update.
You may have seen that we issued a media release assuring businesses that we have no intention of taking enforcement action under the Commerce Act if they are cooperating to make sure New Zealanders continue to be supplied essential goods and services such as grocery products. Businesses that are providing these goods and services should feel able to work with competitors to share staff or distribution networks or take other measures to ensure security of supply for consumers.
Some legitimate arrangements and collaborations between competitors that businesses may contemplate as a consequence of the pandemic may be exempt from the Commerce Act. Businesses can also apply to us for authorisation or clearance to collaborate. If you are unsure of the position, please get legal advice or contact us to discuss.
We are still aiming to carry out our current merger applications within the timeframes agreed with the applicants. We may need an extension if there are delays in receiving responses to information requests due to COVID-19 and its associated challenges. Any changes to the due date will be reflected in the case register on our website.
Businesses are still able to file any new merger applications at any time. We will seek to prioritise any requests for merger approvals where the financial viability of a firm is in jeopardy because of the current economic circumstances.
We will continue to assess each application on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the current environment and the longer-term impact on competition from any change in the structure of markets.
We are acutely aware of the pressures on many businesses due to COVID-19 and that we all face a great deal of uncertainty. Our current investigations are continuing, and we are liaising with parties which require additional time to provide information to us. We will manage each investigation on its own merits and continue to evaluate all information that comes to us on a case-by-case basis, including consideration of any challenges businesses have in working with us as they respond to Government directions in relation to working from home for example. If you have any concerns, please get in touch with us.
What we will not tolerate
We will not tolerate unscrupulous businesses using COVID-19 as an opportunity to take advantage of New Zealanders in breach of any of the laws that we enforce.
For example, we are working with other Government agencies to address any reports of claims related to COVID-19 that may confuse or mislead consumers.
The Fair Trading Act requires businesses to make sure that the claims they make about their products and services are based on reasonable grounds when they make those claims. Ultimately, they must also be accurate and not misleading.
For example, if a business claims that their product or service provides a cure or prevention for COVID-19 they must have evidence showing a reasonable basis for that claim or they risk breaching the law.
All our staff will be working from home for the foreseeable future. We are well placed to do this. All our staff have devices that enable them to work remotely and our ability to do this was tested successfully with an entire Commission work from home day on Friday 20 March. We will continue business as usual as much as possible. Our focus will continue to be on meeting the needs of our many stakeholders as well as the health and wellbeing of our staff.
If you had meetings scheduled with our staff, they will be in touch in the coming days to convert these meetings to either phone calls or Microsoft Teams calls.
Our contact centre phone line will not be operating while we implement a system to allow this to be answered remotely. In the meantime, consumers and businesses can contact us via email or our website.
In addition to the matters described in this letter, we are discussing other aspects of our work with stakeholders across Government, in the business community and in community agencies.
For those that have key points of contact at the Commission please continue to work directly with these individuals. For others who do not or are unsure who to speak to please use the following email addresses and one of our team members will come back to you as soon as possible.
Competition issues or queries – email@example.com
Mergers or authorisations – firstname.lastname@example.org
Regulated industries – email@example.com
Media queries – firstname.lastname@example.org
General queries – email@example.com
We would like to thank you for everything you are doing in your own way to help New Zealand and New Zealanders to get through these challenging times. We will keep you informed of matters relevant to our work through our website and email but please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any concerns or questions.
Anna Rawlings, Chair
Adrienne Meikle, Chief Executive