The concept for the ICN originated out of recommendations made by the International Competition Policy Advisory Committee (ICPAC), a group formed in 1997. ICPAC was commissioned to address global antitrust problems in the context of economic globalization and focused on issues such as multi-jurisdictional merger review, the interface between trade and competition, and the future direction for cooperation between antitrust agencies. In its final report, issued in February 2000, ICPAC called on the U.S. to explore the creation of a new venue — a "Global Competition Initiative" — where government officials, private firms and non-governmental organisations could consult on antitrust matters. ICPAC recommended that this Global Competition Initiative be directed toward "greater convergence of competition law and analysis, common understanding, and common culture."

Government officials and members of the Antitrust Bar recognized that the best way to promote sound and effective antitrust enforcement in the wake of economic globalization was through the establishment of a network of competition authorities and international competition specialists. ICPAC’s recommendation for a Global Competition Initiative was embraced. At a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the EC Merger Control Regulation, held in Brussels in September 2000, Joel Klein and Mario Monti (then European Commissioner for Competition) expressed their support for the initiative.

Following these endorsements, the International Bar Association convened a meeting of more than 40 of the world’s senior competition officials and practitioners in Ditchley Park, England in early February 2001 to discuss the feasibility of a global antitrust network. The Ditchley Park discussions were positive and forward-looking, and there was great support for the idea of establishing a new organisation directed exclusively at international antitrust enforcement.

On October 25, 2001, top antitrust officials from 14 jurisdictions – Australia, Canada, European Union, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, and Zambia – launched the ICN.