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FTC Votes to Toughen Antitrust Review Policy

An exterior view of the Federal Trade Commission building
(Image credit: Future)

The Federal Trade Commission has voted along party lines to rescind its policy statement that it would not require prior notice and approval of mergers undertaken by companies that have settled FTC complaints against previous proposed mergers.

Under that policy, the FTC was still able to require either prior notice of approval, FTC Republicans pointed out, but only of deals that it believed were likely to be a threat to competition and consumers rather than all deals proposed by a company that has settled a previous merger proposal.

Democrats supporting the reversal said the policy tied the FTC's hands when it came to aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws and would save staff time that is currently spent investigating clearly anticompetitive mergers, often undertaken by serial deal filers.

Republicans said the FTC was punishing the companies that had worked with the FTC to settle earlier deal proposals, and thus would discourage such settlements.

That vote came after a similar 3-2 vote earlier this month to rescind an Obama-era (2015) bipartisan policy statement that, using a “consumer welfare” standard, it would only challenge actions that cause or are likely to cause harm to competition, “taking into account any associated cognizable efficiencies and business justifications.”

Both moves were meant to send the signal that the FTC is going to get tougher on merger antitrust reviews.