The Federal Trade Commission, the US government body in charge of consumer protection and investigating anti-competitive marketplace practices, has announced that it will not stand in the way of Amazon’s plan to merge with Whole Foods.
In a statement posted to the FTC’s website today, acting director Bruce Hoffman wrote the agency had investigated the matter and determined the planned $US13.7 billion ($17.3 billion) acquisition does not yet warrant further action.
“The FTC conducted an investigation of this proposed acquisition to determine whether it substantially lessened competition under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, or constituted an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act,” Hoffman wrote. “Based on our investigation we have decided not to pursue this matter further. Of course, the FTC always has the ability to investigate anticompetitive conduct should such action be warranted.”
As noted by the Wall Street Journal, the move is essentially a green light for Amazon to move forward with its purchase — and potentially muscle its way into the grocery sector. Whole Foods investors approved the plan the same day, making it pretty much inevitable now.
The Washington Post added the FTC’s decision flies in the face of US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said Amazon does not pay taxes — it does, though is remarkably adept at shifting its tax burden overseas — and suggested it has an antitrust problem.
Per CNBC, the combined Amazon-Whole Foods would control just 1.4 per cent of the US grocery market, though it would likely have a disproportionate impact on its future.
Amazon has largely avoided antitrust scrutiny by arguing it competes on price and quality, not abuse of its market position, though critics have repeatedly warned buying a major brick-and-mortar chain could be a prelude to another type of anti-competitive behaviour: Pricing its competitors out of the market before taking over those retail sectors.
Amazon’s dominance has spooked some competitors into banding together to resist it, per the New York Times: Walmart and Google have begun banding together to sell products via Google Express, though it isn’t clear the move will have any impact.