WASHINGTON -- A bill backed by the Justice Department that would give the U.S. authority to investigate and prosecute price-fixing schemes and other antitrust violations by foreign-owned companies is to be introduced in the House and Senate this week.

"There are more international price-fixing cartels in operation than you'd ever believe," Anne Bingaman, assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division, said Monday in a Capitol Hill press conference.

She said she could not specify what industrial sectors are hardest hit by foreign cartels, but did say the Justice Department is investigating almost 20 major cases and plans to announce the results of one probe next week involving a "major consumer item."

The bill, to be introduced in the House by Judiciary Committee chairman Jack Brooks (D., Tex.) and in the Senate by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D., Ohio), chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, would give the U.S. authority to negotiate mutual legal assistance agreements with foreign antitrust authorities. While the Securities and Exchange Commission has similar authority with 18 foreign governments, U.S. antitrust agencies don't.

Metzenbaum said the bill would give U.S. consumers "greater protections against group boycotts, price-fixing cartels and monopolistic mergers. Under these new international agreements, foreign companies that manipulate U.S. consumers will no longer be able to hide behind their own laws and loopholes."

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