Report of the Seventeenth Annual Symposium on Competition Amongst Retailers and Suppliers

The Report of this year's Symposium is now available. It covered key themes relevant to competition involving branded producers and distributors, including the regulation of digital markets, consumer policy and protection and developments governing vertical and horizontal agreements.

The symposium opened with a keynote presentation that outlined the UK’s approach to the regulation of digital markets, the anticipated parliamentary delay in setting up the regulatory framework and the practical implications for retailers and brands in the meantime.

This prepared the ground for the first session, on the regulation of digital markets. A discussion on the role of codes of practice opened this session, followed by a presentation from the European Commission on the Digital Markets Act, who it applies to, the obligations it imposes and how it will be enforced. A discussion was then held on how the rise of platforms has changed competition law and market dynamics, vertical issues such as dual distribution and online sales restrictions and how suppliers and retailers are reacting to the new environment. The session closed with a presentation on recent shifts in approach to the regulation of digital markets in the US.

Brands in Retail Competition

The second session focused on consumer policy, protection and enforcement, comprising a discussion involving a regulator, consumer representative, academic, lawyer and branded supplier, with input encouraged from the floor. This explored how consumers think about products and make decisions and how business practices may influence consumer behaviour. Whether current consumer law works for the challenges posed by digital markets was assessed, with the discussion closing with the relative advantages of prescriptive and principles-based approaches to consumer law being explored.

The final session focused on vertical and horizontal agreements, looking at the changing competition landscape and the policy response. Regulations relating to vertical and horizontal block exemptions have been or are being updated both in the EU and UK, providing a context for the discussion. Specific themes explored included changing approaches to information exchange, the distinction between joint purchasing and buyer cartels and striking the right balance between encouraging sustainability and ensuring competition law remains effective.

The event was hosted by the Oxford Institute of European and Comparative Law in conjunction with the Centre for Competition Law and Policy and was sponsored by Bristows LLP and Oxera Consulting. It was held under the Chatham House Rule.