A request for input and thoughts, or “Call for evidence”, on whether or not the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (CBER), due to expire on April 25th 2024, should be extended, with or without amendments.
The EU Commission has decided to take the bull by the horns and do what until now many had accused it of failing to do, which is to incorporate the critical issues already highlighted in the past by service users (primarily shipping companies, terminal operators and shippers) through a special questionnaire.
As is well known, EU law generally prohibits agreements between companies that restrict competition. However, the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation allows, under certain conditions, liner shipping operators to cooperate in the provision of joint services.
The Commission’s initiative aims to assess how it has been functioning since it was extended in 2020.
“While the challenges faced by the sector during the evaluation period are exceptional and unprecedented, their impact on the functioning of the maritime supply chain brings useful lessons on the role of consortia in the productivity of liner shipping services, as well as the overall efficiency and resilience of the global logistics system. As such, they provide useful information on the relevance of the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation. The assessment of whether the Regulation is still fit-for-purpose will also take into account (i) the trend towards consolidation between carriers, (ii) their vertical integration and (iii) cross-membership between consortia since 2020.”
“Indeed, the changes in the competitive structure of liner shipping have a bearing not only on the suitability of the sector for a block exemption from antitrust rules, but also on the number of small and medium-sized carriers that could be the main beneficiaries of the reduced compliance costs that underpin the efficiency of the block exemption,” the Commission continues.
To this end, “when measuring the effectiveness and EU added value of the Regulation, the Commission will take account of the results of its own efforts to clarify and simplify the rules, through the review of the Specialisation Block Exemption Regulation and the Commission Guidelines on horizontal cooperation agreements.”
Those concerned can submit their comments in response to the call for input and questionnaires by October 3, 2022.
After that, the Commission will present a summary of the assessment results in a staff working paper, which is expected to be published in the last quarter of 2022.
Translation by Giles Foster