20 Februari 2016

[200216.EN.BIZ] Maersk Insists GRIs Do Not Break EU Law, Despite Commission's Doubts

MAERSK Line says the EU Commission's more than two-year investigation into container line rate announcement practices found no evidence of antitrust infringements, reports Lloyd's Loading List.

The European Commission in November 2013 opened a formal investigation into 15 container shipping companies into suspected wrongdoing in the use of General Rate Increase (GRI) announcements.

After more than two years, the commission announced that it had closed its probe "without finding an infringement of EU competition law", Maersk said.

Despite the absence of any evidence of wrong doing, the commission assumes an injured air, saying it still considered the posting of general rate increases unlawful.

So the carriers - Maersk included - together with China Shipping, CMA CGM, Cosco, Evergreen, Hamburg Sud, Hanjin, Hapag Lloyd, HMM, MOL, MSC, NYK, OOCL, UASC, and Zim caved and agreed to include more information with their GRIs.

Nonetheless Maersk wished to make it known that the commission's website of the Directorate-General for Competition, "included a statement that 'the Commission has not established that there is any evidence that an infringement of EU or EEA competition law has occurred and makes no determination as to the existence of such an infringement'."

The company added: "Maersk Line and the other shipping companies have throughout declared that they have not engaged in any practices that may give rise to any concerns relating to EU/EEA competition law. However, Maersk Line and the other parties have agreed to offer the above-mentioned proposed commitments."

Maersk Line offered the compromise on the "understanding that the EU Commission confirms that there are no grounds for further action, and that the Commission will close its proceedings opened on 21 November 2013 without finding an infringement of EU/EEA [European Union / European Economic Area] competition law.

"If the proposed commitments are adopted, Maersk Line and the other shipping lines will change the way they make price announcements to customers. Notably, there will be changes to the current industry practice of announcing GRIs."

Said a company statement: "Maersk Line will continue to announce price increases 30 days in advance of implementation to its customers by the usual communication channels. However, instead of solely announcing the 'increased' amount, the new price will include further elements to increase transparency for customers."

Forwarding representatives from the British International Freight Association (BIFA) have given a cautious welcome to the agreement.

Although BIFA director general Robert Keen was careful in his wording, his comments suggest that the organisation had remained unhappy with aspects of liner pricing announcements.

Said Mr Keen: "The demise of liner shipping conferences in Europe in 2008 should have put an end to 'price-fixing' between competitors extending to any other component that makes up the total price of the service, including surcharges, terminal handling charges and so on. If this latest EU initiative delivers that, it should be good for our members."

Source : HKSG.

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