Shipping Conferences

Even more stringent in imposing its will on liner operators regardless of flag has been the Competition Directorate of the European Commission in the European Union. Initially, Shipping Conferences were given exemption from the direct impact of EU competition law (Regulation 4056/86).  This permitted the conferences to continue to function in their traditional roles but how that role was to be interpreted in the era of containerisation, consortia operation and in the light of the EU’s own complex regulations became the “battleground” between the shipping industry and the European Commission (EC). The EU has been known to impose fines of million of dollars on each of the lines operating between North America and Europe.  The lines concerned had assumed that their Trans-Atlantic Conference Agreement, which was approved by the USA, was equally agreeable to the EU.  The latter appeared to change their minds and accused the lines, both European and American of “abusing their dominant position”.  The way such a judgement can be enforced is that any lines failing to comply would be forbidden access to European ports. Whilst tolerating some measure of Liner Conference membership (even that which agrees freight levels), and despite the fact that we now live in an age of intermodalism, the EU is intolerant of any attempt by lines to agree through rates because it involves a degree fixing surface rates within Europe.