An executive at your company comes to you about a new trade association she would like to join on behalf of the company. The association includes your competitors. The executive would also like to attend the association’s meeting in Florida next week, with several other colleagues. This will encompass three days of in-depth meetings on various aspects of the industry, including group-specific break-out sessions and several social activities. While your response is likely that participating in trade association meetings with competitors can be beneficial, you also know it carries risk.
To help you think through these important matters early, below is a practical guide to dealing with antitrust issues involving trade associations. This article offers best practices for you and your clients to employ when considering whether to join a trade association and how to participate in trade association activities. Many of these principles also apply more generally when advising executives about collaborative activities with competitors. The costs of getting it wrong are high: Competition law enforcers around the world have targeted illegal agreements among competitors formed at trade association events, resulting in violations and fines.
Of course, each instance must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We recommend you contact antitrust counsel early in the process so that he or she can provide proper case-specific guidance.