Competition not sufficient to warrant deregulation

The Commerce Commission has found there’s not yet enough competition to deregulate the dairy processing industry.

The Commission began its review in June this year at the request of the Minister for Primary Industries as required under the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act 2001 (DIRA).

Deputy Chair Sue Begg said the Commission’s draft finding is that, on balance, there is not sufficient competition at the farm gate and factory gate to consider full deregulation at this time.

“Our primary concern is that competition in the factory gate is very limited. Without the existing regulations, Fonterra would be able to increase the price of raw milk it sells to other domestic processors. This could in turn result in higher retail prices for dairy products in New Zealand,” Ms Begg said.

“While there are signs of competition and growth in the farm gate market, particularly in Canterbury, Southland and Waikato, Fonterra faces little competition as the dominant buyer of raw milk in most regional markets. However, it does not have the ability or incentive to reduce prices to farmers in this market due its co-operative nature and constraints from competitors.”

The Commission also concluded that Fonterra has limited ability and incentive overall to shut competitors out of dairy markets if the regulations were removed.

The Commission’s draft report has outlined options for transitioning to deregulation in the future and resetting the current market share thresholds that prompt a competition review. The recommendations include:
Taking a staged approach to amending the DIRA regulatory regime, beginning with a review of the Raw Milk Regulations with an eye to allowing a factory gate market to develop
Resetting the market share thresholds in both the North and South islands to 30 percent (up from the current 20 percent) as the trigger for a competition review of the dairy industry.
“Our analysis suggests that gradual relaxation of the Raw Milk Regulations may encourage the factory gate market to develop. Full deregulation currently poses a potential risk to domestic competition in goods such as fresh milk and cheese, where independent processors are dependent on regulated access to raw milk from Fonterra. Taking a staged approach to deregulation would mitigate this risk,” Ms Begg said.

“We recognise that any changes to the regime would need to be carefully managed and welcome submissions from interested parties. In particular we want to test the evidence on the likely costs and benefits of deregulation and whether our recommended approach of developing a more competitive factory gate market is appropriate at this time.”

Submissions on it are open until December 4th.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Paul Goldsmith have welcomed the Commerce Commission’s release of a draft report on the state of competition in New Zealand’s dairy industry today.

The report was commissioned by the two Ministers on 2 June 2015 as required under the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act 2001. That Act allowed the formation of Fonterra, and includes provisions to promote contestability in New Zealand’s farm gate and factory gate dairy markets to ensure their efficient operation.

“The Commerce Commission has formed an independent view based on its expertise as New Zealand’s primary competition regulatory agency. On balance, the draft report has found that competition is not sufficient to warrant deregulation at this point,” says Mr Guy.

Submissions on this draft report are open until 4 December 2015. Following a period for cross-submissions, the final report will be released by 1 March 2016.

“I intend to consult on a package of policy proposals in mid-2016, following receipt of the Commerce Commission’s final report.

“The dairy industry is a major part of our economy and this process will be helpful in assessing whether the Act is effectively promoting contestability, and in turn, the efficient operation of our domestic raw milk markets.”

“I would like to thank the Commerce Commission for their work to date, and I encourage all those with an interest in this area to consider the Commissions draft report carefully, and to make a submission if necessary,” Mr Goldsmith says.

The final report will help inform the Government’s policy decisions, in particular, whether or not to allow the default expiry of the pro-competition provisions of the Act in the South Island (the current expiry threshold was met in the South Island in the 2014/15 season).

The draft report is here.

Now that the expiry threshold has been met in the South island I hope that the Minister will allow the default expiry of the pro-competition provisions.

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