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The European Shippers’ Council has called for increased co-operation between liner customers and competition authorities in response to the creation of the four major east-west container shipping alliances.

The ESC yesterday released a white paper, which coincided with a meeting in Brussels between the EC’s competition commission, the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and China’s Ministry of Commerce (Mofcom).

The world’s three most important competition authorities, which famously produced varied judgments on the legality of the proposed P3 alliance last year, met yesterday to discuss “the global trend towards increased co-operation in the liner shipping market, as well as on regulatory and policy issues related to ports”.

They were particularly focusing on port congestion and their respective regulatory powers.

“With the continued growth in scope of carrier co-operation, the authorities considered that monitoring the sector warrants ever closer contact and better communication between competition and regulatory authorities,” a joint statement said.

The three organisations also pledged to continue to work together.

They added: “Today’s exchanges have been a valuable opportunity to foster co-operation between our three authorities. We have identified areas of common importance and we look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue.”

This will come as welcome news to the ESC, which urged the three authorities to develop a three-pronged joint action plan to create standard definitions of the various liner markets and, secondly, establish a global unified public file to which all carriers looking to co-operate have to submit their proposals.

The ESC said: “Such a file could be requested to be submitted in all parts of the world included in the co-operation perimeter. Comments from industry and other stakeholders on these submissions should be allowed for consideration by competition authorities.”

Thirdly, it argued that legislators in the US, EU and China should allow the three bodies to “exchange information (eventually commercially sensitive) drawn from the various files submitted in order to cross check and consolidate the various data”.

The ESC white paper also called for greater collaboration between shipper representatives, as well as between shippers and carriers, and proposed launching a pilot communication project at the end of this year to develop greater understanding between shippers, forwarders and carriers.

“The main objective of establishing some kind of communication between ship operators and their customers [shippers and freight forwarders] is to better identify the global expectations and constraints of each of these parties and avoid misinterpretation of apparent actions. Better understanding of operational but also contractual needs (or willingness) would be very profitable for both sides,” it said.

It also called on shipper and forwarder associations to play a greater role and share more information on the impact of carrier alliances, which it said was harder to determine when it is analysed from a single perspective.

“Shippers’ and freight forwarders’ associations may launch a collaboration at international level to jointly collect and report some data such as perceived service quality from customers’ view, reach of the network, contract quality, availability of cargo space, surcharges customer service quality, etc,” it said.

It added that such co-operation could be overseen by the Global Shippers’ Alliance, with the first surveys launched at the end of this year and results published in mid-2016.

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