Shippers call for reform of Asian shipping trades

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The Global Shippers’ Forum has called on Asian governments to introduce the appropriate competition laws to prohibit liner conferences and discussion agreements that eliminate effective competition in Asian trades.

In its declaration following its annual meeting in Macau last week, the GSF said: “Ocean shipping reform and continued regulatory oversight of carriers remains a key policy priority for the GSF.”

It said the past year had witnessed a variety of unacceptable shipping practices, ranging from the imposition of abrupt and opportunistic rate increases and surcharges, cargo “roll overs”, the limitation of shipping capacity and a general lack of adherence to rate agreements and contractual arrangements on an unprecedented global scale.

The GSF argues that while there have been major changes in Europe to bring the shipping industry into line with the normal provisions of anti-trust laws and similar progress in North America, there has been no corresponding progress in Asia and other regions such as the African continent.

A GSF seminar involving regulators from Europe and North America was designed to kick start a policy debate in Asia to draw attention to the unfavourable position of Asian shippers which, it says, are afforded little or no protection by the application of anti-trust laws and to inaugurate an Asian maritime regulatory reform campaign to bring Asia into line with Europe and North America.

The GSF also agreed:

* Support for US Congressman Oberstar’s investigation and his stated intention of ending anti-trust immunity for ocean carriers.

* Support for FMC chairman Lidinsky’s recent proposed changes to the US Shipping Act to extend protection for American importers, exporters and consumers resulting from FMC Commissioner Rebecca Dye’s investigation into shipping capacity shortages and ocean practices regarding service contracts.

*The need for on-going monitoring of carrier behaviour by competition regulators in Europe to ensure full compliance with anti-trust laws following abolition of liner conferences in 2008.

* Anti-trust exemption for non-rate making agreements should be restricted to vessel sharing and other kinds of agreement that promote efficiency. Discussion agreements and other general trade wide agreements that have the capability to restrict competition should not have anti-trust exemption.

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