The Government has asked New Zealand's competition watchdog to relax some of its rules so companies can better respond to Covid-19.
Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi has written to the Commerce Commission to ask the regulator to "be more flexible" than usual when it comes to businesses working together.
"The Government is aware that, as a result of Covid-19, sectors like supermarkets and telecommunications companies may need to work in a more collaborative way than the Commerce Commission would normally be comfortable with," Faafoi said.
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"Now is not the time for strict competition rules to get in the way of common sense and legitimate collaboration as business responds to Covid-19," Faafoi said.
And the Commission has agreed to the Government's request, its chairwoman, Anna Rawlings, said.
She said the commission did not want businesses doing it tough because of Covid-19 to be constrained by competition law if it was going to prevent good outcomes.
She said the regulator had "no intention" of punishing any businesses working together closely to make sure good continued to be supplied in these "unprecedented times".
The Commerce Commission's job is to keep an eye on business competition in New Zealand and ensure businesses are following the rules.
If businesses are working too closely together in a way that is inhibiting completion in the market, the commission can, and has, stepped in with punishments such as fines.
But Faafoi wants the watchdog to take a step back as businesses adapt to the changes brought about by Covid-19's spread.
He wants the commission to show some flexibility and allow businesses to work together in ways that will allow them to provide things like grocery products and other essential goods and services to New Zealanders.
But this did not mean the Government would tolerate unscrupulous behaviour where Covid-19 was used as an excuse for non-essential collusion or anti-competitive business practices, such as price-fixing, Faafoi and Rawlings said.
"This should also not be seen as some sort of licence for price gouging or hoarding. The Government and the public would take an extremely dim view of that," Faafoi said.
He added that he had faith that New Zealand supermarkets, and other essential services, will act responsibly and with the best interests of their fellow New Zealanders in mind during these extraordinary times.
Faafoi said his comments did not override the Commerce Commission's statutory powers or independence.