FTC commissioner says it’s time to enforce the Robinson-Patman Act
Independent grocers and pharmacies may have found the ally they are looking for in Alvaro Bedoya, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Mr. Bedoya, speaking yesterday at the Midwest Forum on Fair Markets in Minneapolis, said that the emphasis of courts on protecting “efficiency” rather than “fairness” in trade situations has created an imbalance that favors large businesses over small players. The solution, he said, is enforcement of the Robinson-Patman Act.
“Why doesn’t that word, ‘efficiency,’ appear anywhere in the antitrust statutes that Congress actually wrote and passed? If efficiency is the goal of antitrust, then why am I charged by statute with stopping unfair methods of competition, and not ‘inefficient’ ones,” he said. “We cannot let a principle that Congress never wrote into law trump a principle that Congress made a core feature of that law. I think it is time to return to fairness.”
Mr. Bedoya spoke about the case of an independent grocer, R.F. Buche, with 21 stores in South Dakota, primarily on Native American reservations that include some of the most impoverished communities in the U.S.
He said that Mr. Buche did not have access to prices and product sizes sold in big box stores even though his wholesaler purchased the same quantity of items as chain competitors.
“When the pandemic hit, manufacturers cut supplies to Mr. Buche and his wholesaler,” said Mr. Bedoya. This included him not being able to obtain items approved for the government’s WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program such as infant formula.
The National Grocers Association (NGA) “applauded” Mr. Bedoya’s remarks and his call to “resurrect” Robinson-Patman. The trade group has advocated for more forceful use of the act by the FTC, which has not brought a case in more than 20 years.
“Unfortunately, this is not a new reality faced by independent community grocers across the country, where the playing field on which they are operating is not level and dominant firms exercise their power to demand special treatment from suppliers without an economic justification. Independent grocers and the wholesalers that serve them provide critical competition on price, quality, service and convenience,” NGA president and CEO Greg Ferrara said in a statement. “A spotlight has been shone on these anticompetitive, harmful tactics and we look forward to working with the FTC and other policymakers to restore a competitive, robust marketplace that benefits local economies, independent grocers and their shoppers alike.”
- “Returning to Fairness” Prepared Remarks of Commissioner Alvaro M. Bedoya Federal Trade Commission – Federal Trade Commission
- NGA Supports FTC Commissioner Bedoya’s Call for Antitrust Enforcement – National Grocers Association
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should the Federal Trade Commission enforce the Robinson-Patman Act more vigorously? Where do you see appropriate examples of where it could be applied?