Competition regulators from the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are working together to identify potential cartel conduct in global supply chains, the latest in a series of investigations that will make the liner community shudder.
The working group includes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Canadian Competition Bureau, New Zealand’s Commerce Commission, the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Authority and the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
New Zealand’s Commerce Commission chair Anna Rawlings commented today: “We recognise that Covid-related supply chain issues have created significant challenges for economies worldwide… However, we still have zero-tolerance for unscrupulous businesses using Covid as an opportunity for cartel conduct, such as non-essential collusion between competitors or anti-competitive behaviour. The international working group will strengthen our continued efforts to deter and penalise cartel conduct.”
A two-year investigation by the US Department of Justice into collusion among the world’s top liners closed in February 2019 without bringing charges or imposing penalties. Since then, however, allegations of profiteering and collusion have ramped up amid the spectacular, record earnings made by global carriers during the pandemic.
Regulators from the US, the EU and China met in September last year and determined there was so far no evidence of anti-competitive behaviour in container shipping.
Aware of mounting criticism and speculation, liners took the decision last year to close the 50-year-old International Council of Containership Operators, informally known as the Box Club, a behind-closed-door meeting of the CEOs of the world’s top liners.
Welcoming the news on a pan-nation investigation, Olaf Merk, project manager for ports and shipping at the International Transport Forum (ITF) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) told Splash today: “Coordination in monitoring and regulation of liner shipping is long overdue. It is a global industry, but there is no global regulatory approach on competition in liner shipping. Initiatives like these can help to address that governance gap.”
“This is a timely and welcome announcement that competition authorities around the world share shipper anxieties about how markets are behaving. Carriers should consider it a verbal warning over how rates and capacity are expected to behave as the world economy emerges from the pandemic and normal market forces re-apply themselves,” said James Hookham, a director at the Global Shippers Forum.
Other global shipping cartel investigations, most notably in the car carrier segment, have resulted in significant fines in recent years.