Attack of monopoly retailers: they wanted to deceive deputies with a “mass grave”

Amendments on retail chains “sneaked” into the law on shelters for homeless animals

The plenary session of the State Duma on June 7 turned into an action-packed psychological thriller. An innocuous animal shelter bill put to a vote was suddenly replaced by trade law amendments designed to loosen caps on the maximum market share that retailers can hold. Not only that, such a measure can kill competition. Also, dangerous amendments appeared like a devil from a snuffbox: suddenly, the day before the vote and immediately to the second reading.

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If you open the electronic database of the bills of the State Duma and compare the original version of the document with the current version, on which the deputies had to vote, it seems that these are generally two different projects.

In its original form, the bill contained only one amendment to the law “On Public-Private Partnership” and had nothing to do with trade at all.

The document spoke about … shelters for homeless animals. In this form, the document submitted to the lower house in February of this year, passed the first reading. But after that, an amazing transformation happened to him.

By the second reading, the bill had swelled up like an airship. Instead of one modest amendment on dog shelters, it contained seven major changes to the laws “On Public-Private Partnership”, “On Concession Agreements”, “On Education” and “On the Fundamentals of State Regulation of Trade Activities”.

In the expert community, such documents are jokingly called “mass graves” – when several amendments are dumped into one bill at once, sometimes unrelated to each other. Moreover, initially one amendment is introduced, and the rest are “buried” closer to it closer to the second reading.

It was the amendments to the law on trade that caused the most questions among the expert community. They suggest easing the current restrictions on the maximum market share that a retailer can occupy in each region of the country. Now it is 25%. Parliamentarians propose to raise the ceiling to 35%. Simply put, if now there can be four large retail chains in the region, then with the new quotas there will be only three of them. Legislators explain this measure by the need to stabilize the Russian market in connection with the withdrawal of Western trading companies from the country. Domestic chains will be able to buy out the areas abandoned by foreigners in stores without fear.

The amendments are good in words, but they caused serious concerns among agricultural producers. Farmers predict that such a decision threatens to monopolize the market, which was extremely difficult for small regional food producers to break into even before Western sanctions.

In the spring, the Ministry of Industry and Trade was already working on a similar initiative. True, the department proposed increasing the quota only as a temporary measure until the end of this year. But even this option met with strong resistance from agricultural producers. Eleven associations and unions of producers of meat, dairy products and bread sent a collective letter to the department in May of this year, in which they criticized such a maneuver and predicted the redistribution of income along the chain “from field to counter” in favor of the largest retail chains, as well as a drop in the investment attractiveness of food and the processing industry due to reduced competition.

The criticism worked: officials decided to slow down the draft law and not submit it to the State Duma, when suddenly the 25/35 scheme loomed up again. Only now the controversial initiative came out from the pen of the deputies of the Duma committee on property issues. Moreover, if in the ministerial version the “ceiling” for retailers was raised only temporarily, then in the deputy version there are no time limits for the measure at all. The redistribution of the market towards monopolization is expected forever.

The very fact of the bill's transformation to the second reading aroused the dissatisfaction of the Duma members.

At the plenary session on May 7, Vladimir Gutenev, head of the Committee for Industry and Trade, demanded to postpone the vote on the amendments by at least one day.

– The bill included amendments regarding labeling and amendments to the law on trade, – Vladimir Gutenev explained his request for a delay, – Especially since today we received a letter from Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Shpak. The amendments were not submitted to the Ministry of Industry and Trade for approval, the department believes that they are damp.

The co-author of the amendments, deputy from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Sergei Gavrilov, retorted that everything was in order with the project. Say, the amendments are agreed with the Government. The speaker of the lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin, ultimately decided not to remove the bill from the agenda.

On the sidelines of the Duma, they complain that such a way to “slip through” the necessary amendments is a violation of the rules of the lower house. But the regulation is not a law, but only an internal procedure for the work of a government body. The parliamentarians themselves characterize such maneuvers not as “illegal”, but rather as “indecent”.

According to experts, such a scheme for making amendments is periodically practiced. This is usually done towards the end of a session, or when circumstances require a bill to be passed as soon as possible. A targeted injection of an amendment that is not related to the original document allows you to shorten the time for consideration as much as possible. Most often, for this, a document is taken as a basis, which passed the first reading God knows when and was lying around in the depths of the committees. If necessary, it can be revived and supplemented with new amendments. In this case, you do not need to start the procedure again. The bill in an updated form starts from the point where it stopped.

For example, according to this scheme, amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted with penalties for fakes about the armed forces. They were implanted in a bill criminalizing deal blocking aimed at facilitating 2014-style Western sanctions. The original version of the document was developed and submitted to the lower house back in 2018 and contained one single amendment to the Criminal Code. In this form, the bill passed the first reading, after which it was forgotten for more than two years. However, in March 2022, the document was resurrected. True, in a completely different way. Several articles of the Criminal Code were added to it with penalties for discrediting the activities of the Russian military. In this form, it was submitted to the second reading and subsequently promptly adopted.

True, the focus was not successful with the amendment to the law on trade. At the vote on May 7, the deputies excluded it from the final package. However, opponents of the monopolization of the trade market urge not to relax. A quota softening of just 10% is too much of a tidbit for big retailers to throw at least one big player overboard. This means that there are no guarantees that the amendment will not appear in another bill in the very near future.


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