CityPress - - Business -

1. Su­per­mar­ket ex­pan­sion into town­ships 2. Ex­clu­sive leases in malls 3. For­eign traders’ com­pe­ti­tion with lo­cals 4. Reg­u­la­tions and by­laws af­fect­ing traders 5. “Buyer groups” in the in­for­mal econ­omy 6. The ef­fect of “cer­tain iden­ti­fied value chains” com­peti­tors from abroad as much as by malls.

The pro­posed in­quiry seeks to “ex­am­ine the dy­nam­ics of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween lo­cal and for­eignowned small and in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers”.

The point is “to un­der­stand whether this may con­trib­ute to the decline in small and in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers in town­ships, peri-ur­ban ar­eas, ru­ral ar­eas and the in­for­mal econ­omy”, seem­ing to mean that for­eign shop­keep­ers’ con­duct is to be in­ves­ti­gated.

For­eign-owned shops “have been per­ceived to be more suc­cess­ful than the oth­ers and the rea­sons there­fore are un­clear”, read the terms of ref­er­ence.

The sup­posed su­pe­ri­or­ity of for­eign-born traders is of­ten in­voked as one of the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to ten­sions that have re­sulted in the loot­ing of for­eign shops and mob at­tacks on for­eign­ers.

The min­is­ter of small busi­ness devel­op­ment, Lindiwe Zulu, this year drew crit­i­cism for say­ing that for­eign shop own­ers “can­not bar­ri­cade them­selves in and not share their prac­tices with lo­cal busi­ness own­ers” in the midst of wide­spread vi­o­lence.

The terms of ref­er­ence specif­i­cally men­tion the “im­pact of buyer groups” on small re­tail­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to com­mis­sion spokesper­son Mava Scott, this is a ref­er­ence to the popular be­lief that for­eign shop own­ers un­der­cut their lo­cal com­peti­tors through bulk buy­ing stock as groups.

The in­quiry seems to be aimed at, in part, in­ter­ro­gat­ing the myths and com­mon ac­cu­sa­tions that are thrown around when xeno­pho­bia rears its head.

“The small [re­tail] sec­tor has come to us to say th­ese guys [for­eign­ers] are anti-com­pet­i­tive,” said Scott.

An­other com­mon com­plaint was that for­eign-born shop­keep­ers sold sub­stan­dard goods, he said.

The in­quiry will try to es­tab­lish if there is any­thing in th­ese com­plaints that ac­tu­ally con­sti­tutes an of­fence in terms of com­pe­ti­tion law.

The con­cern about malls and for­eign com­pe­ti­tion echoes the long-stand­ing gripes of or­gan­ised spaza own­ers in, among other in­sti­tu­tions, the Na­tional African Fed­er­ated Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try (Naf­coc).

An­other leg of the in­quiry be­ing pro­posed is the ef­fect of reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing by­laws, on traders.

This re­calls the dis­as­trous at­tempts by, among other cities, Jo­han­nes­burg to “clean” out traders in its cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict through heavy-handed and of­ten il­le­gal means.

The re­tail in­quiry will be the third con­cur­rent mar­ket in­quiry af­ter the com­mis­sion re­ceived the power to con­duct th­ese large-scale in­ves­ti­ga­tions in 2013.

The sweep­ing health­care in­quiry is on­go­ing with its own of­fices in Pre­to­ria while the in­quiry into the liq­uid petroleum gas sec­tor is also tak­ing shape.

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