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The Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF)  want to outlaw rate-making cartels and have urged governments in Asia to initiate reforms which were in line with competitive global practices such as those which now existed in Europe.

The forum which met recently in Macau, said ocean shipping reform remains a key policy priority for it.

It noted that the past year had witnessed a variety of unacceptable shipping practices, ranging from the imposition of abrupt and opportunistic rate increases and surcharges, cargo ‘roll-overs’; the limitation of shipping capacity; and a general lack of adherence to rate agreements and contractual arrangements on an unprecedented global scale.

This has resulted in major disruption to global supply chains, often resulting in delayed deliveries especially for time sensitive shipments.

These practices have acted as a barrier to the development of international trade at a time when fostering global commerce is vital to economic recovery and supporting employment in response to the worst financial and economic crisis since the 1930’s.

It is against this backdrop that the GSF convened a seminar during its annualm meeting in Macau involving regulators from Europe and North America. The aim was to review recent changes to competition law in Europe and their impact, and possible regulatory changes in the US as a consequence of the disruption to the normal flow of international commerce resulting from carrier actions in response to the financial crisis.

The GSF recognised that while there had been major changes in Europe to bring the shipping industry into line with the normal provisions of anti-trust laws, and while similar progress in North America to regulate the activities of carrier agreements had been made, with further measures imminently to follow, there had not been any corresponding progress in Asia.

The main goal of the GSF’s seminar in Macau was therefore to kick start a policy debate in Asia to draw attention to the unfavourable position of Asian shippers who are afforded little or no protection by the application of anti-trust laws. The forum also hopes to inaugurate an Asian maritime regulatory reform campaign to bring Asia into line with Europe and North America.

In a related issue, the GSF focussed on the increasingly common practice by carriers in the main east-west deep-sea liner trades of slow steaming.

The GSF said: “In regard to slow steaming shippers expect cost savings to be equitably shared and schedule reliability assured which is not presently the case. Slow steaming should not be used as a means of restricting or managing capacity to influence the functioning of a normal competitive market.”

According to ShippersVoice.com, European Shippers’ Council secretary general, Nicolette van der Jagt, confirmed that this remains a key concern for European shippers who believe that carriers introducing slow-steaming to reduce their own costs must understand the possible impacts this has on their customers’ supply chains: lengthening lead-times, increasing inventory cost, disorganizing transhipment patterns, and making changes to schedules and port rotations with little or no warning. “Carriers should pay more attention to their customers needs and take the time to learn about their customers’ businesses”.

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