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Brussels, 1st July 2008

Antitrust: Commission adopts Guidelines on application of competition rules to maritime transport services

The European Commission has adopted Guidelines on the application to maritime transport services of EC Treaty rules on restrictive business practices (Article 81). This follows a public consultation in 2007 (see IP/07/1325 and MEMO/07/355). In 2006, the Council repealed the exemption from the EU competition rules for liner shipping conferences (see IP/06/1283 and MEMO/06/344). As from October 2008, liner companies will have to assess themselves whether their business practices comply with the competition rules. The Guidelines will help maritime operators understand the implications of this change, and provide details on market definition, information exchange in liner shipping and on operational co-operation agreements between tramp operators (i.e. unscheduled maritime transport of non-containerised bulk cargo), so-called pool agreements. The Guidelines will be published in the EU Official Journal.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: "Given the importance of maritime transport of goods to so many areas of the European economy, I have to make sure that the sector is operating as competitively as possible, keeping prices down and quality of service high. By providing guidance to maritime operators on EU competition rules, these Guidelines mark a significant step towards better enforcement in the maritime sector ".

Council Regulation 4056/86 allowed liner shipping operators an exemption from EU competition rules to organise themselves into so-called "conferences" with the aim of fixing prices and coordinating capacity for the transport of containerised cargo. In September 2006, the Council decided to abolish that exemption from EU competition rules, with effect from 18 October 2008. The Council also decided to extend the scope of the procedural antitrust rules (EC Regulation No 1/2003 – which lays down the rules for implementing the antitrust rules laid down in Articles 81 and 82 of the ECTreaty) to cabotage (i.e. the transport of goods between two points in the same country) and tramp shipping services (unscheduled maritime transport of non-containerised bulk cargo). This means that the Commission now enjoys the same investigation and enforcement powers as regards cabotage and tramp services as in all other economic sectors.

These changes mark the start of a new competitive regime in the maritime sector. To ensure that the new regime fosters competitive markets, the Commission agreed to provide guidance on the application of Article 81 of the EC Treaty to the maritime sector. The Guidelines have been adopted following a consultations on a draft published at the end of 2007 (see IP/07/1325 and MEMO/07/355). The Guidelines clarify the rules on information exchanges and trade associations in the liner sector and provide more guidance on the legal treatment of tramp pools. In particular, the final text explains in more detail the circumstances in which a pool agreement which initially looks anti-competitive may be redeemed by its pro-competitive effects, such as better quality services or lower prices for customers.

The section dealing with the liner sector will apply for a period of five years starting from 18th October 2008 which is the effective date of repeal of the liner conference block exemption.

The reform of competition rules applying to maritime transport services will be completed in the coming months by a public consultation on a preliminary draft regulation on the renewal of the block exemption Regulation for liner shipping consortia (Commission Regulation (EC) No 823/2000 of 19 April 2000, as amended). That regulation allows shipping lines to enter into extensive cooperation for the purpose of providing a joint service (so-called "consortia"). The Maritime Guidelines adopted today are an integral part of the Commission's Action Plan to implement the Integrated Maritime Policy (see IP/07/1463 and MEMO/07/403).

The English, German and French versions of the Guidelines are available at:

See also MEMO/08/460.

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