London, UK – The Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF) has called on the European Commission to change the criteria it uses to assess the effectiveness of a key exemption for shipping lines from EU competition rules.
The EU Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (CBER) allows shipping lines to exchange information and to co-operate so that they can provide Consortia services to and from EU ports. The Regulation is due to expire in April and the Commission is currently assessing responses to a proposal to extend it for a further four years.
In its response, GSF called for the use of different evaluation criteria to those used by the Commission in its review. GSF claims the Commission’s chosen criteria did not adequately assess the evidence of poor service levels and other shortcomings provided by shippers.
James Hookham, GSF’s Secretary General said: “The Commission’s proposal to extend the CBER by another four years seems largely based on its assessment that it saves money for the shipping lines and cuts down on red tape in the Commission. But any Block Exemption is a massive loss of fundamental protections for shippers and other ‘consumers’ of Consortia services under European competition law and the Commission needs a much more robust means of assessing the impacts of the CBER on the entire market. We have proposed a different way that the effects of the Block Exemption should be assessed so they reflect more fairly the customers’ interests.”
The four ‘customer-facing’ criteria proposed by GSF are:
Declaring what data is to be used to enforce the terms of the Block Exemption (the Commission admitted it is difficult to estimate the exact market shares of consortia).
Monitoring more closely how shippers’ and other users’ experiences are improved by the workings of the Block Exemption (shippers’ first-hand evidence was discounted in favour of historical survey trends).
Assessing more frequently how confident shippers and other users are feeling about the effects of the Block Exemption (currently this will only happen at the time of renewal, ie in four years’ time).
Providing shippers and other users with quicker and more accessible ways of having price and service anomalies investigated (currently, shippers need to lodge an official ‘Complaint’ with the Commission).
“Given the major changes that are taking place in world trade and the container shipping industry, it is vital that the Commission takes a forward view and anticipates these effects on shippers as it considers whether to prolong the CBER,” concluded Hookham. “After 10 years, GSF believes the Consortia Block Exemption to be life-expired and that it should be replaced by more specific and flexible rules that take much greater account of shippers’ and other users’ interests. The Commission needs to remember that the users of Consortia services are in fact European businesses and their customers and suppliers around the world, importing and exporting goods to and from the EU, and that much greater account should be taken of their needs and views before prolonging the CBER.”