Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the Trinidad and Tobago Fair Trading Commission?
The Trinidad and Tobago Fair Trading Commission is an independent agency established pursuant to the Fair Trading Act that is responsible for promoting and maintaining fair competition in Trinidad and Tobago.
How does the Commission help protect consumers?
The Commission can help protect and strengthen free and open competitive markets and ensure that businesses compete fairly. Aggressive competition gives consumers access to higher quality goods and services.
How does the Fair Trading Commission promote competition?
The Commission promotes competition by:
- Investigating and challenging anti-competitive activities such as unjustified exclusionary conduct by dominant firms and monopolies and agreements between competitors that restrain competition.
- Reviewing and approving mergers and challenging those that may lead to higher prices, fewer choices, or less innovation.
- Creating a competition culture in Trinidad and Tobago through advocacy efforts focused on disseminating information to businesses, consumers and other stakeholders that articulate the benefits of competition.
Why is competition important?
Competition spurs businesses to be more efficient, innovative and responsive. The benefits, brought about by a competitive market, will directly benefit consumers, who will enjoy more choices, lower prices, better and more innovative products and services.
How can I contact the Commission?
You can contact the Commission by calling (868) 623-2931 ext. 2202/2232/2234/2236 or sending an email to email@example.com.
What are the most common examples of conduct that are prohibited under the Fair Trading Act?
Agreements to fix, directly or indirectly, a purchase or selling price or any other trading conditions; share a market or sources of supply; limit or control production, market outlets or market access, technical or technological development; or perform an act of bid rigging.
What is meant by a dominant undertaking or enterprise?
An enterprise would be deemed dominant when if by itself or together with an interconnected body corporate, it occupies such a position of economic strength as will enable it to operate in the market without effective constraints from its competitors or potential competitors.
What is meant by abuse of a dominant position?
An enterprise which has a dominant position is said to have monopoly power and abuses that power if it impedes the maintenance or development of effective competition in a particular market. This includes, directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading terms on any supplier or customer, limiting or controlling production or market access to the prejudice of consumers. Abuse may also include refusing to supply to a particular enterprise or group, applying different conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties and predatory behaviour towards competitors.
Does the Commission provide advice to businesses?
The Commission is in the process of preparing Guidelines to the Fair Trading Act. In the interim the Commission will on request provide advice concerning the interpretation of the provisions of the Fair Trading Act (see contact information above).
Can the TTFTC force companies to lower their prices?
No. The Fair Trading Act (“the FTA”) aims to promote a competitive market and it does not regulate the prices of goods and services. It must however be noted that one of the objects of fair competition is competitive pricing. Accordingly, businesses are allowed to set prices of goods and services as legitimate business conditions determine, as long as the pricing decision is made independently of any agreement with others and consistent with market conditions.
An increase in price is not in itself an offence under the FTA, however the TTFTC remains committed to closely monitoring rising prices in order to determine whether increased prices are in any way a result of anti-competitive practices.
If an increase in price is a result of anti-competitive conduct, the TTFTC will take necessary actions to address the issue. Anti-competitive practices may include but are not limited to the following:
- unlawful price fixing;
- collusion among suppliers; and
- abuses by a monopolist.
What are the benefits of fair competition?
The benefits of fair competition for consumers include but are not limited to:
- Lower prices: The simplest way for a business to gain a bigger market share is to offer a better price. In a competitive market, prices are pushed down and this is good for consumers because when more people can afford to buy products, and also for businesses who are encouraged to produce more which boosts the economy in general.
- Better quality of products and services: Fair competition encourages and stimulates businesses to improve the quality of goods and services they sell and therefore attract more customers and expand market share. Quality can be interpreted in many ways from products that last longer or work better, to better after-sales or technical support or overall better service.
- More choice: In a competitive market, businesses will try to differentiate their products from their competitors. This may result in greater choices for consumers who can then select the product that strikes the right balance between price and quality.
- Innovation: Businesses may be driven through competition to adopt more efficient production processes and offer new, improved and upgraded products and services to customers.
- Making informed decisions: When consumers are aware of the benefits and advantages of competition, they are likely to be more confident to make informed decisions. This in turn may motivate and stimulate businesses to increase their competitive efforts to win over consumers.
What are the areas in which the FTA does not apply?
The FTA is of general application. There are however certain sectors where the FTA will not apply including:
- The Securities Industry
- Banking Industry
- Intellectual Property
- Professional Associations/Collective Bargaining Situations
- Activities expressly authorized or required under any treaty or agreement to which Trinidad and Tobago is a party.
Are high prices anti-competitive?
Not necessarily as high prices might be due to unavoidable shocks to the economy. The market distortion resulting from anti-competitive practices can however result in higher prices among other effects.
Can the TTFTC regulate tariffs and customs duties?
No. The TTFTC can however make representations on their impact on prices and competition in local markets.
Does the FTA apply only to “big businesses”?
No. Fair competition means that all businesses have the right and freedom to compete. The provisions of the FTA apply to all businesses irrespective of their size.
Does the FTA also apply to commercial state-owned enterprises?
Yes, to the extent that such enterprises are in competition with private sector entities.
Who can make a complaint to the TTFTC?
Any person, consumer, business or trade association can make a complaint against any contravention of the FTA.
How do I make a complaint?
Anyone suspecting anticompetitive behaviour by a business enterprise, whether being directly affected or not by such behaviour, may file a complaint with the TTFTC.
Complaints may be provided to the TTFTC directly, anonymously, or through an intermediary (such as a legal adviser). They may be submitted on behalf of more than one person or party.
Complaints may be made by telephone, e-mail, post, in person at the TTFTC’s office, or via its Complaints Form by clicking the embedded link or by visiting the TTFTC’s website.
What must a complaint include?
To assist the TTFTC in assessing the matter, a Complainant should submit any information that it has or has access to, and is encouraged to provide as much of the following information as possible:
- A description of the relevant facts regarding the conduct the Complainant is concerned about;
- Information on any documents that relate to the conduct including copies of those documents where possible;
- Information about the business enterprise or individual(s) involved in the conduct, including their contact information where known;
- Specify the nature and scope of the business activities pursued by the business enterprise or individual involved in the conduct;
- Indicate if a relationship exists between the legal entity or natural person submitting the complaint and the subject(s) of the complaint (e.g., customer, competitor, etc);
- Where necessary, a description of the Complainant’s position in the market, i.e., a list and description of the customers buying/selling the product or service, the suppliers thereof and the rivals active on the same level of the distribution chain;
- Submit statistics or other data available that relate to the facts set out, in particular where they show developments in the marketplace (e.g., information related to prices and price trends, barriers to entry to the market for new suppliers, etc.) to support the allegations complained about; and
- Copies of statements/complaints which have been submitted to the Complainant by external parties, employees, agents and witnesses who have been affected by the conduct complained about.
Can a Trade Association establish price recommendations?
No. A trade association is not allowed to establish price recommendations as it may harm competition. Prices are supposed to be determined independently by businesses according to the demand and supply of the products or services. The act of price recommendation could induce businesses to set their prices around the recommended levels regardless of their costs, quality and target markets.
What are some examples of anti-competitive conduct?
Some examples of the types of business arrangements that are generally prohibited under the FTA include:
- Price fixing-this involves competitors agreeing not only to the price to charge third parties for their products, but also agreeing to the components a price will include, the levels of price increases, discounts or rebates, the timing of price changes and any other price-related matter(s).
- Agreements to limit or withhold supply or production– these involve firms agreeing to restrict the availability of a product or service in order to push prices up.
- Market allocation or customer sharing-this involves competitors agreeing to focus on different product or geographic markets, or different customer groups.
- Bid rigging and Collusion-this involves competitors agreeing in advance which of them will win a particular contract.
- Disclosures and exchanges-whether direct or indirect of competitively sensitive information to facilitate cartel conduct and are therefore also treated as very serious infringements of competition law.
- Cartels-where competitors in the same market agree to fix prices, share markets, rig bids or limit production or supply and to also keep existing and potential competitors from entering a market or from reaching their full potential.
- Anti-competitive mergers– mergers which lead to a lessening of competition, e.g. resulting in an increase in prices above the prevailing level, lower quality, and/or less choices of products and services for consumers.
What should I do if I suspect that an anti-competitive act is taking place?
If you suspect or know of any business that is behaving in an anti-competitive manner, report it immediately to the TTFTC. The complaint should not be frivolous, vexatious or malicious in nature.
Can businesses exchange information with other market players or fellow competitors either directly or indirectly?
Businesses often share information that can be deemed as normal commercial behavior and are often pro-competitive. However, some information sharing may harm the competitive process such as sharing commercially sensitive information including the following:
- Information on prices, price formulae, costs, business strategy, rebates, discounts, volumes, productivity levels
- Information on customers, suppliers, marketing strategy, sales volumes and targets
- Future strategy and plans.
Information that can be shared may include:
- Published industry statistics
- Annual reports
- Legislative developments
- Historic cost and sales data
- Information in the public domain
- Aggregated data.
If I am a member of a Trade Association, what can I do to avoid the Association being treated as a cartel?
Cartels are often involved in anti-competitive behaviour including price fixing which occurs when two or more suppliers of a product or service come together and agree on pricing. These agreements do not need to be in writing; simply making a cartel agreement is unlawful. The warning signs of price fixing include but are not limited to the following:
- Exchanging confidential or commercially sensitive business information between competitors;
- Evidence that two or more suppliers of a particular product or service have agreed to price or discount their products in a certain or identical manner;
- Has the price changed suddenly by a number of suppliers of similar products?
- Have discounts suddenly changed without justification or reasons by the suppliers?
The public is reminded that the presence of any of these warning signs does not necessarily mean a cartel exists. However, one should be suspicious if several of these warning signs exist.
Can the TTFTC award compensation for harm arising from anti-competitive conduct?
No. The TTFTC can recommend compensation but only the Court has the power to award compensation.
Is there a fee attached to filing a complaint with the TTFTC?
At present, there is no fee attached to filing a complaint.
Is there a fee attached to filing a merger application with the TTFTC?
At present, there is no fee attached to filing a merger application.
What happens to companies that merged before the commencement of the FTA?
The Act does not apply retroactively. The TTFTC can only deal with mergers that take place after the commencement of the Act. If a merger that took place before the commencement of the Act created a dominant enterprise, the TTFTC can look into the conduct of that enterprise at any time.
Will my complaint to the TTFTC remain confidential?
While the TTFTC strives to maintain the confidentiality of complaints, it may be required to disclose same in certain limited instances such as such as where disclosure is ordered by the Courts.
The TTFTC may take the view that the information provided is not confidential or that the circumstances of the investigation require some degree of public disclosure. In this scenario, the TTFTC will give the individual or enterprise who provided the confidential information prior notice of its intention to disclose some or all of their information.
Additionally, the investigation of some complaints may require the disclosure of information contained therein so that they may be properly investigated.