The European Commission is calling for feedback on the performance of the legislation that exempts liner consortia from antitrust rules.

The competition watchdog is also sending targeted questionnaires to interested parties.

These include carriers, shippers, freight forwarders and terminal operators who have eight weeks until October to respond to the Brussels-based body.

The regulator is seeking to establish the impact of consortia agreements of liner shipping companies over the course of the past two years.

It is specifically interested in the impact of the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (CBER), which was extended for four years through to 25 April 2024.

The block exemption allows lines with a combined market share of less than 30% to cooperate or provide joint services on European trades.

Changing times

At the last review, the Commission ruled that consortia provide more efficient use of vessel capacity, improved productivity and better quality of service for consumers.

But the turbulent market conditions of the past two years with spiralling rates and deteriorating service have led shippers to call for an investigation into agreements between liner operators.

Last month saw ten top shipping bodies demanded the to the Commission to demand an “immediate review” into competition regulations governing container shipping.

Such a move would enable new measures and mechanisms to be adopted before current legislation monitoring container carriers expires in under two years’ time, the lobby argued.

The shippers’ lobby include the Global Shippers Forum, the European Shippers Council and forwarders lobby group Clecat.

They argue that the ability of carriers to “collectively manage” the impact of the pandemic and make billions of dollars in profit “demonstrates that something is wrong”.

They have proposed a review to consider “new measures and mechanisms” to be implemented before the expiry of the current regulation.

Shippers have taken heart from the investigation conducted in the US by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), which facilitated the passage in June of the US Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022.