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ACCC spikes gadget price-fix

Australian regulator rebuffs retailers' request over competition concerns

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Australia’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has politely declined a request by a retail buying group to set minimum prices on a bunch of electrical and electronic gadgets.

In a draft decision issued late last week (January 17), the watchdog told National Associated Retail Traders of Australia (NARTA) that its proposal to set a minimum advertising price on goods raised concerns at a lack of competition and higher consumer prices.

NARTA’s 32 members include names like JB Hi-Fi, Bing Lee, David Jones, Ted’s Cameras, VideoPro, and RetraVision, buying from vendors like Acer, Asus, Nikon, Canon, HP, Toshiba, Sony, Belkin and Logitech, as well as a slew of whitegoods and other appliance suppliers.

According to the ACCC’s announcement, the buying group had asked permission to set the minimum prices for Beko branded products that would include TVs, cameras, and various white goods.

The regulator noted that permitting a minimum advertised price would, in particular reduce scope for competition in online purchases, since “online retailers, which generally do not negotiate their selling prices down from the advertised price like bricks and mortar retailers might do”.

Even the request seems odd to The Register. Australia’s retailers have complained loudly, both to the media and to the government, that they are unable to compete with consumers parallel importing their purchases from cheaper international online retailers. It’s difficult to understand how a tacit agreement to keep prices high within Australia would revive their fortunes.

While the competition regulator has the legal scope to permit such arrangements, it states that permission is only given when it would be in consumers’ interest. ®

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