Update on the Online Intermediation Platform Market Inquiry

On 19 May 2021, the Competition Commission formally launched its market inquiry into online intermediary platforms (Online Market Inquiry). The Inquiry will be of interest to owners of online market places, new platform developers, platform users and anyone with a stake in the digital economy. The Inquiry has been launched amid concerns around the world relating to the potential distortive impact of disproportionally large firms in the e-commerce space. As the digital economy moves forward at light speed, an increasing dependence on online platforms could leave consumers and suppliers vulnerable.

20 May 2021 2 min read Competition Law Alert Article

At a glance

  • The South African Competition Commission has launched a market inquiry into online intermediary platforms to investigate concerns about the potential distortive impact of large firms in the e-commerce space.
  • The inquiry aims to monitor global developments in digital regulation and ensure alignment with international practices.
  • The inquiry process includes soliciting comments on the statement of issues, conducting online surveys, holding public hearings, releasing preliminary findings, inviting submissions on the findings, and finally releasing the final findings and recommendations. Guidelines for participation have been published to ensure fairness and transparency.

At the same time, effective e-commerce can be a major economic driver, providing new routes to market and a more efficient experience for consumers.  

The Online Market Inquiry will be chaired by James Hodge, the Commission’s Chief Economist and Acting Deputy Commissioner. As part of the Inquiry, the Commission will be looking to keep tabs on global developments in regulating the digital space, to help ensure alignment with international practice. 

A final statement of issues has been published for comment by 18 June 2021. In addition, stakeholders are encouraged to complete the first of a likely series of (needless to say) online surveys, also by 18 June 2021. Certain market participants earmarked by the Commission can also expect initial requests for information to be received in short order.

In terms of the latest administrative timetable published, a summary of the key steps are as follows:

  • Following the analysis of the submissions received on the Statement of Issues, the Inquiry will publish a second.
  • Statement of Issues in the week of 9 August 2021 focused on key emerging issues for stakeholders to make submissions. The Inquiry will also conduct further online surveys around emerging issues and further information requests to some market participants. Submissions from the second Statement of Issues should reach the Inquiry by 10 September 2021, along with online survey responses.
  • The Inquiry aims to conduct online virtual public hearings with stakeholders from 1 to 19 November 2021.
  • Following the public hearings, the Inquiry may hold direct engagements with particular stakeholders and request further information on issues emerging from the hearings.
  • By the first week of May 2022, the Inquiry anticipates releasing its preliminary findings and recommendations.
  • The Inquiry will invite submissions on these findings and recommendations by 10 June 2022, before releasing its final findings and recommendations in November 2022.

The Commission is committed to the principles of fairness, transparency and integrity and will conduct the Inquiry in accordance with these principles. To give effect to this, the Commission has published guidelines for participation in the Inquiry (Guidelines). These Guidelines contain rules of participation that will apply to all firms wishing to participate in the Inquiry, a summary of the key points are included below.

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