Commission accepts commitments regarding container freight announcements – Woodpulp revisited?

08 Jul 2016

The Commission has issued an Article 9 commitment decision, terminating its Article 101 TFEU investigation into suspected price signalling by container liner shipping companies. The Commission opened antitrust proceedings in November 2013, claiming that the carriers’ practice of publishing their future freight increases (“GRIs”) on their websites and in the press increased transparency in the market and reduced uncertainty about the carriers’ pricing behaviour. Its case was that the announcement of non-binding percentage increases, several weeks in advance, enabled carriers to align their prices and coordinate their behaviour. That case marked a significant departure from the Woodpulp  case law, which requires evidence of collusion rather than unilateral publication of pricing intentions alone.

The carriers have been negotiating commitments since 2015 which were market tested in February 2016. Fourteen carriers have agreed to stop publishing GRIs and to ensure that any future price announcements contain a time-limited binding offer that sets out details of the maximum total price and its sub-components. The carriers are free to accept lower rates within the customary booking period for consignments or to negotiate different rates as part of long-term or bilateral agreements.

A copy of the Commission’s press release is here.

Anneli Howard acted for China Shipping Container Lines during the investigation and negotiation of commitments. In the end, following their restructuring, the Commission decided to close proceedings against China Shipping and its agencies without it having to issue commitments.