Definition of level playing field

An expression for a market or industry in which all participants compete under the same conditions from regulatory and fiscal points of view.

“Ensuring a level playing field” is now a common expression in all international agreements, reports, policy statements, proposals and so on. 

We suppose that the “level playing field” concept was born somewhere in the offices of the OECD or the World Bank thirty or forty years ago and it has become a seemingly indispensable and unavoidable multilateral motto.

Its use at the beginning of a text means that the author pays their respects to the global free market and free trade philosophy and that all that will be said later fits into the right line. Nevertheless, this concept is one of the most ambiguous of all and may lead to exactly opposite policies.

On the one hand, trying to maintain or improve a level playing field can inspire more free market measures, exacerbating competition, deregulating more sectors and so on. On the other hand, it could lead to taking reciprocity measures aiming at protecting free entry on the market and imposing conditions to competitors who did not respect this very principle on their own market.

Though the long term goals are the same, what is interesting is that the same words can have dramatically different consequences in the short term. 'Level playing field' as an expression is therefore to be used and received carefully. [1]