Competitive Neutrality and State-Owned Enterprises: Challenges and Policy Options
Competitive neutrality implies that no business entity is advantaged (or disadvantaged) solely because of its ownership. The Paper argues that far from all SOEs have the opportunity or the incentives to act in an anti-competitive way, and a trend in recent decades toward more fully corporatised and commercially operating SOEs has no doubt improved overall efficiency. However, problems remain, not least in the network industries where many remaining SOEs are market incumbents that continue to enjoy monopolies in part of their value chains or government subsidies, purportedly in compensation for public service obligations. Renewed concerns about competitive neutrality have also arisen from the market entry of SOEs domiciled in countries where the process of corporatisation has yet to run its full course. To counter these problems some OECD countries as well as the European Union have established specific competitive neutrality frameworks. These frameworks go beyond addressing the anti-competitive behaviour of SOEs, to also establish mechanisms to identify and eliminate such competitive advantages as they may have, including with respect to taxation, financing costs and regulatory neutrality. The experience so far with such formal arrangements is generally encouraging. Jurisdictions that have them have generally been successful in rolling back state subsidies and, on the evidence to date, have obtained significant economic efficiency gains. The Working Paper concludes that a full implementation of the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises would go a long way in ensuring competitive neutrality. The business activities of currently unincorporated segments of the government sector would become much more competitive and accountable if they were made subject to the Guidelines. For incorporated SOEs the Guidelines also include a portmanteau recommendation of a “level playing field”. However, they offer only limited concrete recommendations on how governments are expected to obtain this outcome in practice. The Guidelines are moreover weakly implemented in a number of countries.
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