New record set for fines for abusive anti-competitive
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
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.