Ecuador's leftist president enacts antitrust law

October 11, 2011 - 5:00 PM

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Leftist President Rafael Correa enacted a new antitrust law Tuesday specifying that Ecuador's news media owners and bankers cannot hold significant financial stakes in other industries.

The measure also bars any company from gaining a monopoly in an industry.

Ecuador's business community criticized the law, saying it further empowered Correa by making his government the arbiter of what is considered monopolistic behavior.

Correa is already at war with much of the news media over his use of a criminal libel law against the opposition newspaper El Universo.

In a radio interview Tuesday, the president said the law will bring "a change in the country's power and property structure."

The law grew out of a ballot question approved by voters in a May referendum, and easily passed Congress, which is dominated by Correa backers.

The president of the Ecuadorean Business Committee, Pablo Davila, complained in a television interview that the law gives the executive branch "excessive power to control and sanction" private enterprises.

The law will be enforced by a superintendent appointed by a citizen's council politically close to Correa and a regulatory committee composed of four Cabinet ministers.

Davila particularly criticized elements of the law that compel media owners and bankers to divest holdings in other industries, saying that, "from our point of view, doesn't benefit competition but rather hurts competition."

The two sectors will have until July 2012 to divest and can have just 6 percent of their assets in other industries or face fines amounting to from 8 percent to 12 percent of the investment.

Analyst Ramiro Crespo of Analytica Securities predicted it will be very difficult to implement the law outside banking and media because so many key sectors of the economy are in state hands, including electrical generation and distribution, landline telephone service, oil and highways.

How effective the law is "will depend on the people named to implement it," Crespo said. "Unfortunately, the experience in Ecuador isn't very good in terms of implementing laws, and sometimes we mistake having a law for having solved a problem."