The Consolidation of Competition Law in Latin America

Julian Pena, Nov 30, 2011

The enactment of the long-awaited reform of the Brazilian competition law can be seen as part of a new stage in competition law in Latin America, which also involves other countries in the region. Regardless of the broad extent of the area covered by the concept of Latin America, and the sweeping diversity of political, economic, social and cultural realities it comprises, there are some common patterns that can be identified in the process through which competition law has evolved in the region, particularly in the enactment process of such laws. There are signs that some Latin American countries have now reached a new stage of development that represents the start of the consolidation and conformity of competition law in the region.

The development of competition law in Latin America can be divided into three stages:

  1. A preliminary stage, when a few countries in the region had some basic and vague legislation with poor enforcement (Argentina 1923, 1946, and 1980; Brazil 1962; Chile 1959 and 1973; Colombia 1959; and Mexico 1934);
  2. A second stage, when most Latin American countries either modernized the existing competition laws (Argentina 1999; Brazil 1991 and 1994; Chile 1999; Colombia 1992; and Mexico 1992) or introduced modern ones with the guidance of international organizations (Andean Community 1991 and 2005; Costa Rica 1994; Ecuador 2011; El Salvador 2005; Honduras 2006; Mercosur 1996; Nicaragua 2006; Panama 1995 and 2006; Peru 1991; Uruguay 2000 and 2007; and Venezuela 1991); and
  3. A stage of consolidation of the existing regimes (Chile 2004 and 2009; Colombia 2009; Mexico 2006 and 2011; Panama 2006; and Brazil 2011), with the introduction of substantial amendments to their laws based on their own experience and on the ideas taken from the best practices agreed at the international fora, with significant debates and strong political support from their governments.

The new competition laws and the way they were enacted show a level of maturity and consolidation of the competition regimes in certain parts of the region that is likely to be followed in the near future by the other Latin American countries, though each at its own pace and in its own fashion. Some countries, for instance, are newcomers to having an antitrust law (e.g. Ecuador 2011), while others are still debating whether to have such kind of laws (e.g. Paraguay). Many of the Latin American countries had previously made some amendments to their laws at different levels (procedural, substantial, and/or institutional). However, the latest series of competition laws evidence a change in both how the society perceives competition laws and its awareness of the importance of the changes that have been introduced, thus raising the level of the debate and relevance of the new laws enacted.