Informal cooperation

Informal cooperation involves countries collaborating to improve how their regulatory regimes work together without having a formal agreement in place.

This approach relies on building relationships and regular informal engagement. Arrangements to share information and work together may be recorded in  some kind of non-binding way .

But informal cooperation projects risk losing momentum without a clear sense of purpose. Relationships also require ongoing maintenance.

The rationale for informal cooperation

A way to build trust and confidence, and share experiences

Informal cooperation is an important step in building understanding, trust and confidence. Each country has  a high level of flexibility  to determine its own policy and regulatory settings while securing many of the benefits of cooperation.

It is especially effective at bringing people from regulatory and policy agencies in different countries together to share experience on existing issues, or to work on new areas. Sharing ideas, expertise, and resources can create efficiencies and also help produce more effective policy and regulation.

Informal cooperation  is also useful when the countries involved have different economic and social conditions, different approaches to risk, different institutional arrangements or different policy objectives. It helps build trust and confidence and fosters transparency when countries mistrust – or know little about – each other’s regulatory regimes.

 Informal cooperation can include:

  • Policy coordination: Information sharing and/or an opportunity to contribute to policy development in another country
  • Cross-agency appointments: A member of the governing board of a regulatory agency in 1 country is appointed to the governing board of an equivalent regulatory agency in another country, and vice versa.

Benefits and risk

Benefits include flexibility, low cost, shared understandings, and stronger relationships

Informal cooperation can offer benefits:

  • Preserves a high level of flexibility in determining regulatory settings.
  • Delivers efficiency gains from sharing resources and knowledge, including on emerging issues.
  • Strengthens trust and confidence in each other’s regulation, policies, institutions and decision making, which makes the prospect of future formal arrangements more likely.
  • Provides opportunities for mutual learning.
  • Provides an avenue to get early warnings on particular problems or issues.
  • Can generally be implemented administratively (without the need for legislation. Options like cross-appointments may require legislative authority in some countries).

Risks include durability and the challenges of maintaining momentum

The fact that cooperation is informal means it has some potential shortcomings:

  • May provide for some, but not full, reciprocity, so benefits are not fully realised by both sides
  • May not be as durable as formal arrangements. Informal cooperation often relies on strong relationships, so can falter if they are not maintained.
  • Progress may be hard to track, and this can make it harder to justify ongoing investment in particular informal cooperation initiatives.

Case studies

Case study: Trans-Tasman competition policy

Trans-Tasman competition policy has evolved to encompass many different kinds of regulatory cooperation. The first iteration involved New Zealand unilaterally adopting from Australia by modelling its own legislation on the Australian Trade Practices Act.

Competition Law – The trans-Tasman experience