EU law generally bans agreements between companies that restrict competition. However, the maritime Consortia Block Exemption Regulation allows, under certain conditions, shipping lines with a combined market share of below 30% to enter into cooperation agreements to provide joint cargo transport services (known as “consortia”).
Container shipping based on liner consortia accounts for most of the non-bulk freight carried by sea to and from Europe. Competitive shipping services are therefore essential for the EU’s economy.
Where such consortia face enough competition, where they are not used to fix prices nor share the market, their users may benefit from improvements in productivity and service quality. They are therefore exempted from the prohibition of anti-competitive agreements.
The Consortia Block Exemption Regulation will expire on 25 April 2020. The Commission has therefore launched a consultation seeking to collect views from stakeholders to assist the Commission’s assessment of the impact and relevance of the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation, and to provide evidence for determining whether it should be left to expire or prolonged, and if so, under which conditions.
In particular, the Commission is seeking the views of shipping companies, their clients (shippers and freight forwarders), port operators and their respective associations. Other interested parties include industry analysts, academics, and law firms specializing in competition law and the maritime sector. The competition authorities of the EU Member States will also be consulted.