The European Commission has decided not to extend the EU legal framework which exempts liner shipping consortia from EU antitrust rules.

The Commission said on Tuesday that the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (CBER) no longer promotes competition in the shipping sector and therefore it will let it expire on 25 April 2024.

The CBER allows shipping lines, under certain conditions, to enter into cooperation agreements to provide joint cargo transport services, also known as ‘consortia’.

Commissioner Didier Reynders, in charge of competition policy, noted that “Our evaluation has shown that a dedicated block exemption for shipping lines is no longer adapted to those new market conditions. This is why we have decided not to extend the current framework and to let it expire on 25 April 2024.”

In accordance with the European Commission statement “Given the small number and profile of consortia falling within the scope of the CBER, the CBER brings limited compliance cost savings to carriers and plays a secondary role in carriers’ decision to cooperate. Furthermore, over the evaluation period, the CBER was no longer enabling smaller carriers to cooperate among each other and offer alternative services in competition with larger carriers.”

The European Commission explained that the expiry of the CBER does not mean that cooperation between shipping lines becomes unlawful under EU antitrust rules.

Instead, carriers operating to or from the EU will assess the compatibility of their co-operation agreements with EU antitrust rules based on the extensive guidance provided in the Horizontal Block Exemption Regulation and Specialisation Block Exemption Regulation.

The Commission extended the validity of the CBER in 2014 and 2020. The extension decided in 2020 was essentially justified by the absence of deterioration in the parameters of competition – mainly freight rates, availability and reliability of services – over the 2014-2019 period. This extension was nevertheless limited to four years in order to better account for possible changes in market circumstances.