Freight News, Sea

BIFA welcomes supply chain watchdog

[ February 21, 2022   //   ]

BIFA welcomes supply chain watchdog group

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) says it welcomes the news that five competition authorities have created a working group to monitor activity by global shipping lines. The authorities will meet regularly to develop and share intelligence to detect and investigate suspected anti-competitive behaviour and collusion.

A new working group of international competition authorities, including the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, says it has put companies involved on notice not to collude.

The working group which also includes the US Department of Justice, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Canadian Competition Bureau and the New Zealand Commerce Commission will meet regularly to develop and share intelligence to detect and investigate suspected anti-competitive behaviour and collusion, using existing international cooperation tools.

Firms attempting to use supply chain disruptions as a cover for illegal anticompetitive conduct could face fines in the UK of up to 10% of global turnover, disqualification of directors and in some cases criminal prosecution.

CMA executive director of enforcement, Michael Grenfell, said: “People and businesses across the world have been facing higher prices for goods and for transporting them. While price rises can be legitimate, the CMA would be concerned if collusive anti-competitive practices are contributing to these rises or preventing prices from coming down.”

Director general, Robert Keen, said that a letter he sent to the UK Department for Transport in January, which was subsequently forwarded to the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), could have helped initiate the investigation.

BIFA says that its members are extremely concerned that practices by container shipping lines, as well as easements and exemptions provided to them under competition law, are distorting the free market. BIFA will be making those points in a meeting that with the CMA in March.

Members are particularly concerned that lines are cancelling their contract rates, forcing them onto the more expensive spot market. 

Keen states: “We are convinced that the well-documented chaos within the container shipping sector is leading to commercial power becoming increasingly concentrated, resulting in diminished market choice and competition, and distorted market conditions.

“It will be interesting to see if the five competition authorities find that the current supply chain disruptions are a direct result of anti-competitive conduct.

“BIFA members fully accept that a free market economy is open to all, but are increasingly concerned that the activities of the shipping lines, and the exemptions from legislation from which they benefit, are adversely and unfairly affecting their customers, especially freight forwarders and small and medium sized businesses.

“The facts speak for themselves. During a period that has seen EU block exemption regulations carried forward into UK law, there has been huge market consolidation.

“The pandemic has highlighted and accelerated this development, which has also contributed to dreadful service levels, and hugely inflated rates, with carriers allocating vessels to the most profitable routes with little regard to the needs of their customers.”

The five competition authorities are joining a growing number of organisations, including CLECAT and FIATA, the US Federal Maritime Commission, and the Australian Productivity Commission, in calling for governments at a national and pan-national level to give careful consideration to evolving business arrangements in the container shipping market to see whether they are in breach of competition law.

Anyone who has information about a cartel is encouraged to call the CMA cartels hotline on 020 3738 6888 or send an email to or use the online reporting form.

Significant benefits may also be available under the CMA’s leniency policy for cartel participants that come forward with information, including, for a business which is the first to report a cartel to the CMA. The CMA’s leniency line is 0203 738 6833.