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04/01/2022

43 Congresspeople Ask FTC to Deal With Antitrust Violations

Bipartisan letter requests that agency investigate, curb discriminatory conduct
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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According to the Main Street Competition Coalition, businesses such as grocers, pharmacies, convenience stores, package stores, restaurants and agriculture producers are increasingly subject to discrimination because of supply chain consolidation.

A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the the federal agency investigate and, when appropriate, bring enforcement actions against economic discriminatory action that violates antitrust laws, among them the FTC and Robinson-Patman Act.

“The antitrust laws were designed to protect against anticompetitive economic discrimination and excessive concentration,” the letter noted. “For example, the Robinson-Patman Act reflects Congress’ determination that discriminatory treatment among competitors is pernicious and should be prohibited. But current enforcement efforts have failed to address these anticompetitive harms, and judges have inappropriately limited the scope of the law despite clear statutory language. Despite Congress’ broad goals in 1936, the FTC has not brought a case under the Robinson-Patman Act in more than 20 years. …We urge the Commission to make enforcement against economic discrimination targeting small and medium-sized businesses a top priority.”

The letter makes plain the position of the Main Street Competition Coalition that businesses such as grocers, pharmacies, convenience stores, package stores, restaurants and agriculture producers are increasingly subject to discriminatory terms and conditions because of consolidation throughout supply chains. It describes the market power abuses of dominant firms that leave smaller businesses with less favorable pricing and price terms, less favorable supply, less favorable retail packaging, and the inability to source products in short supply. 

According to congress members, the coronavirus pandemic caused economic discrimination that has had a disproportionate affect on inner-city and rural communities.

“COVID-19 has ravaged America, shuttering many small businesses and highlighting the anticompetitive effects of discriminatory pricing and product supply, especially for small groceries and bodegas,” observed U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., co-lead on the letter. “Such effects are passed right onto the consumers, as these stores are often the only source for groceries, consumer goods or pharmaceuticals in small towns and big cities. The FTC should use its authority to investigate and bring enforcement actions against discriminatory conduct that violates our nation’s antitrust laws to address economic discrimination that hurt both small business owners and consumers.”

“The Robinson-Patman Act, the Sherman Act, The Clayton Act and Federal Trade Commission Act were all passed to protect small business and encourage competition,” said U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, co-lead on the letter. “This is best for the consumer and for the free market, ensuring that shoppers receive the best prices, and that farmers and ranchers don’t suffer from high levels of concentration. To protect the pocketbooks of Americans and the ability for small businesses to flourish on a level playing field, the FTC must enforce the laws on the books and stop allowing big businesses to create monopolies and increase costs.” 

“On behalf of America’s independent community grocers, we thank representatives Jeffries, Gohmert and all 43 members of Congress who signed this letter for their leadership on this important issue,” noted Chris Jones, SVP of government relations and counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents the independent grocery sector. “A lack of enforcement of antitrust laws in the grocery marketplace has allowed dominant retailers to exert their immense economic power to secure favorable terms and tilt the competitive playing field against their independent grocer competitors. We hope this bipartisan display of suppdeort from Congress will lead to a course correction in how U.S. antitrust laws are enforced.” 

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