By Amine Mansour*
It’s widely accepted that competition authorities’ (CAs) mission extends beyond enforcement of competition rules to focus also on advocacy.
Several young and well-established CAs have engaged in numerous public awareness programs. It is critical for CAs in developing countries to engage in such activities as the real problem in those countries lies in the low-level of competition culture. People who are educated in how competitive markets work are less prone to believe arguments such as «it is good to protect national industries against foreign competition because they create jobs» or others of the sort. In this respect, I would like to highlight in this post a particular aspect of the activites that contribute to establish a real competition culture. Specifically, the main idea relates to the community or the audience that these programs should target when implemented in a developing country.
Several authors and papers call for a selective approach that directly targets the business sphere and decision makers. However, one key aspect that is often neglected in these works are young audiences. The recent activity of the Competition Authority of Botswana (CAB) is a great example of how a real competition culture could be disseminated within young people. First on the 7th of November, the CAB briefed students from the University of Botswana on how competition benefits consumers. Shortly after this initiative, students from Limkokwing University benefited from a lecture on competition law delivered by CAB’s staff. Efforts from this very young agency (set up on 2011) that, by the way, has won “the Most Media Visible Parastatal Award at the annual Ministry of Trade and Industry Awards”, led it to host Junior Achievement Botswana Students.
These initiatives show that the package competition/advocacy imposes a mandate on CAs to undertake a multifaceted effort. This drives us to consider whether young audiences, in particular students, should come as a priority in every effort. In addition to the argument based on alerting future generations to the benefit of competition policy, two additional reasons support this claim.
On the one hand, the common ground of the activities highlighted above is their educational dimension (briefing on market dynamics and the CA’s role in this respect). These efforts are more than welcome in the context of a developing country in which the public has a limited knowledge of the benefits of competitive markets. In this respect, students are a key element. By alerting them to the benefit a competition policy, they will be the relay for the dissemination of a competition culture to the general public.
On the other hand, pro-competition discourse when addressed to young audiences, in particular students, may face less opposition than would be the case with trade unions, local governments or entrepreneurial associations. In this perspective, it would be wise to secure this fraction’s support before addressing groups that may heavily oppose competition. Raising awareness of the benefits of competition is important to a large number of antitrust authorities in developing countries as it helps them to get the support of strategic sectors of the population.
Young audiences should be a central element of any awarness compaign. Their contribution to building a competition culture is not to be underestimated either when playing a seeding role or when being a target of those compaigns.
*Co-editor, Developing World Antitrust