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Expectations that one of the world’s major container carriers will not offer services to some customers including some freight forwarders could be seen as an abuse of its dominant market position and a denial of service, says freight forwarder association Clecat.
Clecat director general Nicolette van der Jagt told The Loadstar shipping lines were already denying services to forwarders in some ways, which seemed a form of discrimination.
“The [ocean] alliances’ market share is very large; it is a concentrated market now [and] they have market power,” she said.
“I wonder to what extent this is an abuse of their dominant position? We will look at it and see if we can challenge this with the European Commission.”
According to Clecat, Maersk is entering the freight forwarding market from a position of dominance. Ms van der Jagt said her members had reported for some time that carriers were insisting on forwarders agreeing to carrier haulage as a condition of accepting cargo – a situation first reported by The Loadstar following complaints from Australian forwarders.
Forwarders in Australia, and now in Europe, fear carriers are forcing them to hand over commercially sensitive information on their customers before they can access the shipping lines’ services, giving the carriers vital information which could later be used by the lines to move cargo directly.
“This is a trend to get all the business door-to-door, putting others out of business, and it raises the question again – is this an abuse of their dominant position?” asked Ms van der Jagt.
Maersk has denied that it is targeting forwarders, with a spokesperson telling The Loadstar: “The company [Maersk] is continuously developing solutions for the current tough market situation, for forwarders as well as other users.”
The spokesperson added that Maersk is currently negotiating contracts with customers and is aware that it cannot offer space to all those that need it. As a result Maersk is giving a greater priority to those that will take door-to-door or will use more of Maersk’s integrated services.
Freight forwarders around the world have reacted to the news that Maersk is likely to prevent forwarders loading cargo out of Asia to Europe and the US.
Robert Barceló, senior manager, business development at Port Everglades, said: “Florida, home to over 1,000 freight forwarders and NVOs, is not particularly rich in BCO’s. It has long been a market dominated by freight forwarders. Alienating such a key sector could have dire effects, especially in the Latin American markets.”
Elton Tan, of EFM Global, had a broader perspective: “Shipping services are just part of one chain of the entire logistical and supply chain management. Shippers will continue to use freight forwarders because forwarders are mostly nimble; we form our own network of offices around the world to provide tailor-made, customised services for each shipper or consignee.
“That position cannot be undermined simply because the carriers want to cut the cake and eat it as well.”
According to Mr Tan, his clients tell him that dealing with carriers the size of Maersk and CMA CGM is “like dealing with an automated machine that has no intelligence”. They say carriers will succeed with larger shippers, but small and medium-sized customers will always prefer an intermediary.
Mr Tan added: “My personal experiences with handling bookings through CMA and Maersk is a very telling sign why my shippers and consignees will never depend solely on liners that offer full freight forwarding services.
“The freight forwarding community around the world has always been the ‘unpaid salesman’ for carriers. They are hoping their systems will be the ‘salesman’ and businesses will just flow in, but it’s just wishful thinking.”