Competition: New record set for fines for abusive anti-competitive behaviour

United Kingdom
New record set for fines for abusive anti-competitive behaviour

The European Commission has adopted a decision imposing record fines on the parties to the Trans-Atlantic Conference Agreement (TACA). The members of TACA have a joint market share in excess of 60% and include fifteen of the world's largest shipping lines, which dominate container trade across the North Atlantic.

In 1994, the members of the TACA had applied for exemption for the agreements pursuant to Article 85(3) of the EC Treaty. However the Commission found that only price-fixing arrangements on transport between Northern Europe and the USA could be exempted. Three other types of price-fixing on inland transport services, prices paid to freight forwarders and agreements on the terms of service contracts all breached the EU's anti-cartel law. Accordingly, the Commission found that the TACA members had collectively abused their dominant position.

The total fines imposed amounted to ECU 273 million. This beats the previous record total of ECU 248 million imposed on the cement cartel in 1995. There is also the possibility that further fines will be imposed in respect of the price fixing of inland transport services supplied within Community territory.

Although an appeal to the CFI is extremely likely, this decision marks a new stage in the long running dispute between the ship owners, on the one hand, and their customers and the Commission on the other. In an attempt to draw a line in the matter, discussions on the subject have been taking place over the past few months. While it is too early to say whether agreement on all issues can be reached, Commissioner Van Miert is optimistic that the basis for a solution to the benefit of trade will soon be in place and that further conflict can be avoided.