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  7th July 2008 - STAR MARITIME

Antitrust law guide for shipping firms

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


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