FMC turns spotlight on alliances

In a bid to crackdown on possible violations of competition regulations, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has taken steps to toughen its oversight of container lines profiting from the surge in demand for physical goods to the US.

The world’s three largest alliances – 2M, THE Alliance, and OCEAN Alliance, will now be required to submit carrier-specific trade data on a monthly basis instead of quarterly under previous guidelines.

The FMC’s Bureau of Trade Analysis (BTA) relies on a combination of confidential vessel operator data and publicly available industry data to monitor container carrier freight rates and service market trends.

“The Commission’s BTA has determined that given recent fluctuations in the markets, they need to receive key trade data directly from alliance carriers on a more frequent basis in order to better position staff economists to timely evaluate changes in the transpacific and transatlantic trades and report findings to the Commission,” said the FMC in a statement.

The move follows from last week’s announcement by the FMC to investigate the carriers’ role in US$150 million of demurrage fees in US ports.

“The three major global carrier alliances are the top priority and receive the highest scrutiny,” said the FMC. “These three agreements have the greatest potential to cause or facilitate adverse market effects based on the agreement’s authority and geographic scope in combination with underlying market conditions.”

The FMC continually monitors key economic indicators and changes to underlying market conditions for all global alliances to detect any joint activity by agreement members that might raise freight rates above competitive levels, or unreasonably decrease services.

FMC Chairman, Michael Khouri said: “If we detect any indication of carrier behaviour that may violate the Shipping Act’s section 6(g) competition standard, we will immediately seek to address these concerns with direct carrier discussions. If necessary, the FMC will go to federal court to seek an injunction to enjoin further operation of the alliance agreement.”