By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Leading shipping container groups Maersk, MSC and 13 other firms have offered to change their pricing practices to settle an EU antitrust probe and stave off any fines, three people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The case is being closely watched by other sectors such as supermarkets and chemical firms which use similar methods to announce future price hikes to enable customers to choose the best rates and are keen to get some regulatory guidance.
The European Commission opened an investigation into the companies, among the world’s 18 largest shipping liners, in November 2013 following dawn raids in May 2011.
The EU competition enforcer said the shipping companies may have been illegally orchestrating price hikes since 2009 via public announcements of rate increase plans on their websites and in the specialised trade press.
The companies have offered to publish binding actual rates a month before they go into effect, the people said. In some circumstances, the figures may act as a price cap. A third source said the offer applies only for short-term prices, not long-term ones or annual contracts.
The Commission is expected to seek feedback from third parties this week or next before deciding whether to accept the pledge and close the investigation, the people said.
A finding of wrongdoing could have exposed the firms to fines of as much as 10 percent of their global turnover.
Maersk and its rivals have been hit by low rates for container freight.
The other companies involved are number three player CMA CGM, Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine, Germany’s Hapag Lloyd, China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO), China Shipping, Hamburg Sud, South Korean firm Hanjin, OOCL (Orient Overseas Container Line), Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) , United Arab Shipping Company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha , Hyundai Merchant Marine and Israeli peer Zim, the sources said.
Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso, Maersk, Hapag Lloyd and Zim declined to comment. CMA CGM did not immediately respond to a request for comment. COSCO, China Shipping, Hyundai Merchant Marine, United Arab Shipping Company and Hamburg Sud had no immediate comment.
Nippon Yusen and Mitsui OSK were not immediately available to comment outside office hours. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Ole Mikkelsen in Copenhagen, Andrew Torchia in Dubai, Fang Yan in Beijing, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Jin Hyunjoo in Seoul, Tova Cohen in Jerusalem, Jan Schwartz in Hamburg and Makiko Yamazaki in Tokyo; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Alexander Smith)
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