The International Competition Network, ICN, is a global, specialized, and informal network of competition agencies. It is dedicated to competition policy and law. Its mission is to advocate the adoption of superior standards and procedures in competition policy around the world, formulate proposals for procedural and substantive convergence, and seek to facilitate effective international cooperation for the benefit of member agencies, consumers and economies worldwide.
The ICN was launched on 25 October 2001 by antitrust officials from 14 jurisdictions – Australia, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, the UK, the US, and Zambia. Recognizing the implications of increasing economic globalization, the concept of the ICN came from discussions and recommendations in particular in North America and Europe to facilitate meaningful international cooperation for competition law and policy.
The ICN takes a welcoming approach to new members: Membership is open to all national or multinational competition agencies entrusted with the enforcement of competition law. To foster the engagement of younger agencies the ICN conducts outreach programs. The network is not an intergovernmental organisation and agency representatives act as experts, not as country representatives. NGAs are directly involved and interaction is not mediated through a committee or the like. To promote NGA involvement, the ICN has established a dedicated ICN/NGA liaison.
The ICN is a virtual organisation without headquarters or staff. The work takes place in results-based, project-oriented, and specialised Working Groups operating by consensus. Initially focused on issues such as multi-jurisdictional merger review, the ICN currently has five Working Groups: Advocacy, Agency Effectiveness, Cartel, Merger and Unilateral Conduct. Each Working Group is led by three co-chairs from different jurisdictions serving staggered three-year terms. The Working Groups have created a growing encyclopaedia of best practices, practical recommendations, and other tools, including among others Recommended Practices for Investigative Process, the Anti-Cartel Enforcement Manual, Guidance on Enhancing Cross-Border Leniency Cooperation, Recommended Practices for Merger Notification and Review Procedures, Recommended Practices for Merger Analysis, Guiding Principles for Merger Notification and Review Procedure, Recommended Practices on Dominance/Substantial Market Power Analysis, Recommended Practices on State-Created Monopolies Analysis Pursuant to Unilateral Conduct Laws, and Recommended Practices on Predatory Pricing Analysis. All ICN work is publicly available to interested agencies and experts via the ICN website.
ICN members and NGAs convene at annual conferences, workshops and virtual events such as webinars hosted by ICN members. The first ICN Annual Conference took place in 2002 in Naples, Italy, followed by conferences in Merida, Seoul, Bonn, Cape Town, Moscow, Kyoto, Zurich, Istanbul, The Hague, Rio de Janeiro, Warsaw, Marrakesh, Sydney, Singapore, Porto, New Delhi, Cartagena, and two virtual events hosted by the US agencies and the Hungarian competition authority. The 21st ICN Annual Conference will take place in May 2022 in Berlin.
The ICN is guided by a Steering Group that consists of selected representatives of competition agencies and ex officio members and is chaired by one SG member elected for a renewable two-year term. The Steering Group ensures that the ICN focuses on topics that are relevant for its members and takes the needs of its diverse membership into account. In addition to the Working Groups, the Steering Group also leads projects, e.g. on the Intersection of Competition, Consumer Protection, & Privacy (initiated in 2019). The Steering Group publishes Statements such as the Statement on Competition during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic (2020). The Steering Group and the Working Groups are supported by the ICN Secretariat, the Horizontal Coordinator, and two Vice Chairs. The ICN closely cooperates on antitrust issues with other international bodies working in the same field primarily via liaisons, notably the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Together with the World Bank Group, the ICN organizes a yearly advocacy contest.
The ICN has established frameworks to facilitate cooperation in the field of merger control and cartel enforcement, as well as the ICN Framework for Competition Agency Procedures (ICN CAP), an opt-in framework which combines a catalogue of principles for fair and effective agency procedures and implementation instruments.
The ICN follows a soft-law approach, that is, the work products aren’t legally binding in a court of law. It does not exercise any rule-making function and ICN work products are not mandatory. Where the ICN reaches consensus, individual competition authorities decide whether and how to implement the recommendations, or use them as an advocacy tool vis a vis the legislator. This allows the ICN to follow ambitious, future oriented projects which are not restricted by the current practice of the agencies involved. At the same time, ICN recommendations serve as international gold standards and the Network’s inclusive bottom-up approach and a certain level of peer-pressure ensure that members feel committed to putting the work products into practice.