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FTC chief vows strict scrutiny over platform monopolies

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Sept. 14, 2023 - 15:36

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Fair Trade Commission Chairman Han Ki-jeong speaks during a press conference held held at the Sejong Government complex in Sejong, Thursday, to celebrate his one-year anniversary since taking office. (Fair Trade Commission) Fair Trade Commission Chairman Han Ki-jeong speaks during a press conference held held at the Sejong Government complex in Sejong, Thursday, to celebrate his one-year anniversary since taking office. (Fair Trade Commission)

SEJONG -- Fair Trade Commission Chairman Han Ki-jeong on Thursday vowed that the antitrust regulator will continuously make efforts to promote fair and innovative competition in the fast-evolving digital market, while closely monitoring platform monopolization.

“As the paradigm shift to the digital economy is expected to proceed rapidly, we’ll strive to establish institutional foundations for the digital market,” Han said in a press conference held at the Sejong Government Complex in Sejong earlier in the day, to celebrate his one-year anniversary since taking office.

The chairman said the antitrust regulator is paying keen attention to key platform businesses, including e-commerce, mobility and accommodations, focusing on whether they are conducting illegal activities to monopolize the digital market.

The FTC is currently looking into some of the major cases, including top platform operators such as Coupang and Kakao, with the aim of completing investigations within the year.

In order to improve fairness and promote competition in the market, the regulator is also separately promoting policies for online platforms to watch platforms’ abuse of market power over content publishers and platforms’ monopolization.

The plan is followed by the FTC’s self-regulation measures on delivery apps and open markets introduced in the first half of this year. The chairman evaluated the measures as “smoothly implemented” in the domestic market.

Regarding the platform monopolization issue, the antitrust watchdog has operated a special task force solely dedicated to monitoring the market since January. The FTC plans to actively participate in the review of some related bills pending in the National Assembly.

Although the FTC has not yet finalized a specific regulatory method due to the characteristics of the fairly new market, it is closely reviewing overseas regulators’ measures to set its direction of policy measures.

Earlier this month, it also held the annual Seoul Competition Forum to discuss the regulatory direction for digital markets with antitrust watchdogs in other countries, including the US, the European Union, Australia and Germany.

“As this issue has a significant impact on the national economy, we are currently collecting various opinions from experts. We’ll closely discuss the direction in which to set the contents of the relevant bills and actively pursue it by gathering opinions and forming a consensus,” the chairman said.

Over his tenure, Han has focused on forming a fair competitive digital market here. He put strict sanctions on both domestic and global Big Tech firms that abused their power, and hindered innovation in key platform sectors.

Among these cases, Google was fined 42.1 billion won ($31 million) in April for abusing its market dominance to solidify its No. 1 position in the mobile gaming app market here for over two years until April 2018.

“Over the past year, we have focused on implementing a ‘fair market economy with good principles,’ so that dynamic and creative business activities can be practiced based on fair competition,” Han said. “We seek to protect the rights of both consumers and business operators, while establishing the principles of market competition based on freedom, innovation and fairness.”

At Thursday’s conference, the antitrust regulator chief also promised to actively respond to unfair practices such as collusion, technology takeover and insider trading.

According to industry sources later in the day, the FTC conducted on-site inspections of local food manufacturing company Ottogi and drugmaker Kwangdong Pharmaceutical over reports of allegedly unfair support from multiple firms.

The chairman hinted at introducing a designation standard plan for foreign conglomerate owners in the near future. The FTC is about to revise its antitrust legislation to include foreign nationals to its list of owner-cum-heads of conglomerates it watches, for any violations of the country’s antitrust legislation.

“We’re comprehensively reviewing how to minimize trade friction risks and regulatory gaps by referring to past designation cases and expert advice with other authorities including the Industry Ministry. … We’ll do our best to produce as tangible results as possible within the year,” he said.