Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta on Tuesday described the Biden administration’s emphasis on aggressive antitrust enforcement in terms of economic justice, denouncing the consolidation of key sectors of the economy as detrimental to consumers and workers.
Gupta, whose portfolio includes overseeing the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice, told a virtual audience at Georgetown Law’s Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium that antitrust has grown from a “realm”. narrow and highly technical “to a” key element of our national dialogue. “
Gupta, who led the civil rights division during the Obama administration’s second term, has linked antitrust law enforcement to his past work on behalf of vulnerable communities.
“Too often, powerful companies exploit consumers and tip the scales in favor of the already powerful,” Gupta said. âBut everyone deserves the benefit of a free, fair and competitive economy. This includes anyone who purchases beef, pork, chicken, tuna or dairy products; workers who have not received a raise or who want better working conditions; and families navigating the health care or insurance markets. Competition benefits consumers, workers, entrepreneurs and innovators.
She said the work was “urgently needed” because of the number of major industries in the U.S. economy that are dominated by a handful of companies, including technology, air travel, meat packaging and food processing. health care market. Gupta said such a concentration forces consumers to pay higher prices for travel, food and health care, and leaves workers in those industries with few options for higher wages.
The Biden administration took an assertive approach to antitrust in its early months, appointing supporters of aggressive action to key regulatory positions, including Big Tech critic Jonathan Kanter to head the antitrust division.
Gupta was introduced by Steven Sunshine, Head of Antitrust and Competition Group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. She answered questions from Sharis Pozen, Co-Head of Antitrust Practice at Clifford Chance.
Gupta said the department would closely scrutinize “murderous acquisitions,” in which large companies buy out nascent competitors to maintain the company’s dominance in the market. These acquisitions have formed the basis of antitrust complaints against large tech companies, particularly Facebook, which is being sued by the Federal Trade Commission over its acquisition of Instagram.
“I know the people in the antitrust division have said it before, but I hope companies are, right now, very careful: anti-competitive mergers shouldn’t come off the board,” Gupta said. âIf they do, we will not hesitate to challenge these mergers. And, if we plead, the department, from management to our extremely talented lawyers, economists and career staff, is committed to winning these cases. “
Gupta compared the current moment to the famous past trust-busting battles against Standard Oil in the early 20th century and Microsoft in the 1990s. She also referred to the department’s ongoing lawsuit against Google for its alleged anti-competitive tactics in research and the department’s successful challenge this summer of the Aon and Willis Tower Watson merger project, which the parties abandoned after the intervention of the Ministry of Justice.
But Gupta said the current environment, which has seen a record number of mergers and acquisitions, has created challenges for the division. She said the antitrust division’s budget “just hasn’t kept up with the increased workload and cost and complexity” of investigations.
While he does not explicitly endorse any of the many antitrust proposals being considered in Congress, Gupta praised Congress’ efforts to increase funding for the antitrust division.
She also linked antitrust law enforcement to worker protection efforts, saying the department already has and will continue to target wage fixing and so-called no-poaching agreements between companies not to hire employees. of their competitors.
“When executives or companies make the decision to get along rather than compete, they are misleading consumers, workers and taxpayers about the benefits of competition in the marketplace,” Gupta said.
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