Leading shipping container groups Maersk, MSC and 13 other companies have offered to change their pricing practices to settle an EU antitrust probe and stave off possible fines, two 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 choose the best rates.
The European Commission opened an investigation into the world’s 18 largest shipping companies 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 specialized 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.
The Commission is expected to seek feedback from third parties this week or the next week before deciding whether to accept the pledge and close the investigation, the people. 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) [COSCO.UL], China Shipping [CNSHI.UL], 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 and Maersk declined to comment. CMA CGM did not immediately respond to a request for comment. COSCO, China Shipping, Hyundai Merchant Marine, United Arab Shipping Company, Zim, Hapag Lloyd and Hamburg Sud had no immediate comment.
(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 and Jan Schwartz in Hamburg; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek)