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ISLAMABAD, Dec 5: Cartels are a major drain on the economy and restrict innovation and growth, said experts, while highlighting the importance of strict implementation of competition laws in the country.

While the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), on its part, has imposed fines amounting to 8.5 billion, on business entities violating competition laws. But violators have obtained stay orders from various courts.

In this regard, a number of seminars were held on Wednesday to commemorate the ‘World Competition Day’. Speakers demanded strict measures to be taken, to protect consumers from cartels. They also demanded independence of regulators, effective enforcement and monitoring mechanism, awareness campaigns and healthy business practices.

“The effectiveness of the CCP’s orders and actions shall be more visible, after disposal of pending cases before the courts,” said Rahat Kaunain Hassan, Chairperson CCP, while speaking at a seminar.

She informed that the Commission was currently dealing with several cases, including poultry, entertainment, urea/fertiliser, telecom and aviation sectors.

In the last five years, the CCP has moved against cartelisation in various sectors: banks, cement, chartered accountancy firms, stock exchanges, dredging, poultry, telecom, jute, power sector, shipping, cooking oil and media.

“We are committed to giving competitors a level playing field. And in the process discouraging price fixing, bid rigging and market allocation,” Ms Hassan stressed.

Meanwhile, at another seminar, titled, ‘Adverse impact of cartels on the poor’ organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), the focus was on creating awareness in the society and using the World Competition Day as a platform.

Waseem Hashmi from Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP) said that increasing influence of cartels, even in policy making circles, had made it harder to make them accountable.

“Not only consumers but even new entrants to the industry, are severely affected by malpractices in the business sector,” he added. He informed that Punjab has only 11 consumer courts, in 36 districts, under the act of 2005. Whereas, there is little work done in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and no competition bill enacted in Sindh.

He also added that people are not aware of consumer courts and don’t know how to approach them.

Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Head of Economic Growth Unit, SDPI, maintained that the consumer has always been ignored in the public policy discourse and economic growth agenda in Pakistan.

“Now when Pak-India trade liberalisation initiatives are being taken, there is a need for synergy between competition agencies in South Asia to restrict the negative impacts of cross border trade,” Dr Vaqar added.