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10 key themes

Global antitrust in 2024

Welcome to the 14th edition of 10 Key Themes, our annual review of 10 of the most significant global antitrust trends to be prepared for in 2024.

As we enter the mid-2020s, global antitrust policy and enforcement face ever more complex and unprecedented issues. The “polycrisis” of geopolitical and macroeconomic challenges – including the cost-of-living crisis, fragmented supply chains and military conflict, combined with advancements in technology and artificial intelligence, as well as strengthened sustainability ambitions – looks set to continue throughout 2024. Against this backdrop, a question is emerging: whether antitrust can be – or should be – a panacea?

We are seeing antitrust play an ever-expanding role as new regulation and frameworks take hold around the world. From much debated ex ante digital regulation in Europe through the Digital Markets Act – under which the first gatekeepers have now been appointed – to new outbound foreign investment review in the US following President Biden’s August 2023 executive order, antitrust is permeating further into the commercial landscape. And in doing so, it is increasing the web of rules with which businesses operating across borders need to comply.

On top of this, antitrust agencies globally feel pressure to support governments in delivering economic growth and inspiring innovation, as well as to help protect consumers, whether through the creation of new or enhanced powers, such as those proposed under the “flagship” Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill set to enter into force in the UK later this year, or via the “reactivation” of older legislation, as we have seen in the US with the revival by the Federal Trade Commission of the Robinson-Patman Act. As a result, certain sectors – in particular those that are consumer-facing, such as life sciences and pharma – may find themselves increasingly under the regulatory spotlight, with the heightened risk of competition law also being used to achieve non-competition goals. This is especially true in the field of antitrust litigation, where using antitrust claims and complaints proactively to achieve commercial aims is finding growing favor among litigants.

As agency thinking and political demands develop through 2024, the role of antitrust for companies seeking sustainability objectives and addressing environmental harm also continues to evolve, impacting businesses looking to achieve “green collaborations” or realize other environmental, social or governance benefits as part of their commercial strategy.

And last, but certainly not least, we see new and emerging theories of harm in the global M&A context, with antitrust agencies seeking not only to broaden their already expansive jurisdiction but also to further widen the boundaries of established substantive assessment. Against ongoing criticism among authorities and politicians across multiple jurisdictions that excessive consolidation in certain industries has been exacerbated in recent years by a lenient approach to enforcement, antitrust authorities globally continue their move toward more stringent merger control, resulting in increased intervention rates and a growing number of transactions being blocked, requiring remedies or being abandoned by merging parties.

Amid the unpredictability and change, one thing is certain: 2024 is set to be a bumper year for global antitrust. Anticipating and proactively navigating the evolving enforcement environment will remain key for businesses that want to remain one step ahead.

Alastair Chapman_roundel_283x283px.png

Alastair Chapman

Global Head, Antitrust, Competition and Trade Group

With thanks to Karen Slaney for her contribution.