As committee approves three-law packageWednesday, August 27, 2014
Gov’t accepts ‘revisions’ to Anti-Hoarding bill
The first day of a busy week for Congress ended with a twist yesterday as a plenary of five committees gave its approval to a package of three laws sent by the government to protect consumers, but only after the ruling Victory Front (FpV) announced amendments that would weaken the action of implementing agencies and the exclusion of small and medium-sized businesses from the Anti-Hoarding bill. They will now be voted on by the full Senate chamber next week.
About a dozen changes were made, but the most eye-catching were those made to the Anti-Hoarding draft, which had been the lightning rod for criticisms that it granted excessive powers to the state to intervene in the private sector. Yesterday’s session concluded with sudden changes after what had been largely tedious debate that did not hold the attention of many of the senators for very long.
Small and medium-sized business that do not have a dominant position in their respective markets will now be excluded from the regime, and the new draft sets out the terms by which businesses can be fined or sanctioned. Previously it was left to the implementing agency to establish those terms. Permanent closures of businesses for violating the law have now been eliminated and temporary closures now require judicial approval before going ahead. The bill retains the power to establish reference prices and profit margins but now includes provisions granting companies that are forced to continue production — despite operating at a loss — to request compensation. The confidentiality of processes and costs facing each company is now explicitly guaranteed.
Furthermore, the Domestic Trade Secretariat was removed as the default implementing agency, a decision that will be left to the Executive Branch. Nonetheless, it is not specified that the Trade Secretariat could not be established as such at a later date.
At a press conference yesterday before the changes were announced the leadership of the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) expressed its rejection of the Anti-Hoarding bill, calling it “an abuse of authority” and vowing to file constitutionality claims against it if it were to receive legislative sanction in both houses. At press time the UIA had not made any public comment about its position concerning the amended bill.
Harsh criticism from opposition senators and business leaders had been directed on the Anti-Hoarding Law over two days of debate, but yesterday’s Senate committee meeting featured support from consumer associations along with nuanced critiques and suggestions for changes in the clauses. Some of these suggestions, particularly the exclusion of the small and medium sized business from crippling fines that could reach up to 10 million pesos, were included in the amendments.
However, requests from consumer associations such as Free Consumers (Consumidores Libres) and Union of User and Consumers (Unión de Usuarios y Consumidores) to use the Competition Tribunal were not incorporated.
The changes were announced by Justice Secretary Julián Álvarez to senators once all of the speakers had concluded their testimony. Álvarez was once again accompanied by Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and Trade Secretary Augusto Costa in the Senate, and it is understood that the changes made to all three bills received prior approval from Government House.
Senator Gerardo Morales (UCR-Jujuy), president of the largest opposition bloc in the Upper House, admitted that that “several changes reduce the arbitrary nature of the bill” but that on an initial reading they would not be sufficient to earn his bloc’s support at a vote to be held on September 3. Regardless, the bill is still expected to receive Senate approval.
The opposition has also expressed its support for measures to create a new Price Observatory and the creation of tribunals to address disputes between consumers and businesses.