SHIPPING companies including major
players A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S and TUI AG's Hapag-Lloyd AG have
been given guidance by European regulators on how to exchange
information without violating fair competition rules.
A decision by European Union
governments to abolish an antitrust exemption for agreements in
which competitors set common rates for scheduled shipping to
maintain regular service takes effect in October. It covers shipping
into or from the 27-nation EU.
The European Commission, the EU's
antitrust regulator said new guidelines would help operators of
unscheduled maritime transport, known as tramp shipping, set up
agreements to pool their services in line with the changed rules.
“The tramp market delivers all the
basic materials to the economy.
“The more efficient pooling
services will bring the best price for users of coal, oil and
grains,” said Alfons Guinier, secretary general of the
Brussels-based European Community Shipowners' Association.
Shipping companies will be allowed
to exchange information under certain conditions, commission
spokesman Jonathan Todd told journalists at a regular briefing.
“Capacity and demand data must be
about the sector as a whole and can't cover individual companies.
“The information has to be
historical and can't be issued on a monthly basis,” said Todd.
Abolishing the conferences, an
arrangement dating to the 1870s, will let customers negotiate
directly with shipowners for carriage of freight.
The commission will have the same
power to bust price-fixing cartels by shipping companies as in any
other area of business.
The European Shippers' Council, a
trade group for customers of the liners, welcomed the guidelines,
saying it will “closely monitor” the European Liner Affairs
Association's information exchanges.
The carriers “will have to
carefully assess their own behaviour,'' Nicolette van der Jagt, the
group's secretary general, said in an e-mailed statement.
“Some of this makes it clear that
carriers will be walking on very thin legal ice.” – Bloomberg