Antitrust investigation initiated by FAS nears completion
Federal Antimonopoly Service completes investigating an alleged container-shipping antitrust case. Market participants disagree with the allegations of FAS and point to a five-time reduction of freight rates over the recent years. The reasons for including certain operators into investigation also bring up questions.
As Federal Antimonopoly Service told IAA PortNews, the investigation initiated in 2013 has entered the ‘final phase’. The hearing on the case has been scheduled for November 6, 2015.
In early 2013, Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia in conjunction with the Interior Ministry of the Russian Federation began inspecting 14 Russia-based agents of the world’s largest shipping lines. In late 2013, FAS initiated a case against the agents of Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM, APL, K Line, NYK Line, OOCL, COSCO, Evergreen, HMM, ZIM, HL , etc, upon signs of violating the antimonopoly law of the Russian Federation.
FAS suspects the largest shipping companies in anti-competitive agreement on fixing concerted surcharges (GRI) at South-East Asia, Far East – Saint-Petersburg / Saint-Petersburg - South-East Asia, Far East container routes.
For a deeper insight into the market, FAS has attracted independent experts with special research to be carried out by Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping (Saint-Petersburg).
Having resumed the investigation FAS of Russia excluded some companies from the list of defendants. The following foreign shipping companies have been included into the list of defendants upon signs of coordinated actions: A.P. Моller-Maersk A/S (Denmark); MSC SA (Switzerland); CMA СGM SA (France); Hyundai Merchant Marine Со., Ltd (S. Korea); OOCL (Hong Kong); Evergreen Marine Corp. Ltd.(Taiwan).
Market players questioned by IAA PortNews on an anonymous basis say that freight rates at the lines linking China and Saint-Petersburg have reduced 5 times from $4,000-5,000 per FEU in 2007 to $800-900 per FEU in 2015. This fact rebuts the existence of the price-fixing agreement. According to the market participants, poor level of the investigation is also confirmed with the fact it involved only agents for a long period of time.
Besides, the logic of excluding some operators from the investigation and retaining others is not clear. For example, Ocean Container Services (Hapag Lloyd agent), COSCO, APL China Shipping Agency, Nyk-Line, K-Line, Zim were excluded from the process. Market players say that certain lines operating at the services under consideration were initially out of the investigation.
If FAS decides in favour of the fines for violation of the antimonopoly law, court proceedings are inevitable. This invites a question of which jurisdiction is to be applied as foreign offices of container operators are to be brought to justice.
Remarkably enough, in 2013, the European Commission launched official antitrust proceedings against 14 liner shipping companies over allegations that the companies published their prices at their websites and through specialized media so that it could signal future price intentions to each other. EC believes this can harm the competition and the customers.
The allegations of FAS and the EC against the shipping lines are alike. FAS says it interacts with EC and Chinese regulating authorities as well as with other regulators of OECD and APEC in investigation of the antitrust case.
It should be noted that FAS is about to complete the investigation amid a slump in container flow via seaports of Russia and western sanctions.