GSF: Economy, not regulations, hurting carriers
Shippers' councils from around the world are attributing ocean carriers' falling fortunes to the global economy's severe downturn, not the end of rate-setting conferences into and out of Europe.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the European Shippers' Council, National Industrial Transportation League, Asian Shippers' Council and a handful of other shipper advocacy bodies met in London as part of their annual Global Shippers Forum, the largest such gathering of shipper councils.
'The members of GSF determined that the hardships being realized in recent months and weeks by some within the liner shipping industry were a direct consequence of the economic conditions and could not be attributed to, nor were they exacerbated by, the reform of EU competition law and the consequent outlawing of liner shipping conference cartels on trades to and from Europe,' the shippers' councils said in a joint declaration released Thursday. 'It was widely accepted by GSF members that such liberalization brought about through regulatory reform would enable the liner shipping sector to achieve efficiencies and operating practices which will achieve viable and competitive options for its customers.'
The GSF did say they would be willing to 'to support the legitimate formation and operation of non-ratemaking liner shipping agreements for the efficiencies they can offer' so long as there were regulatory protections in place from governments to ensure the agreements had no effect on competition.
This is particularly a concern in the Asia-Pacific region, where a hodge-podge of regulatory frameworks exists in the various nations — and where the Asian Shippers' Council has consistently contended that shippers are unfairly punished by what they call ocean carriers' 'cartel practices.'
The GSF also said the economic downturn has taken its toll on shippers, and it sounded a warning about protectionism creeping into political agendas as a result of financial hardships.
'The GSF is increasingly concerned that the current economic climate and financial restraints may encourage political decisions which could result in unsustainable solutions to these global issues and reverse the tide of liberalization and competition in trade and international transport,' the statement said. 'Shippers could be impacted hard by such consequences. The voice of shippers needed to be heard in these debates and have far greater influence with the international, governmental bodies and institutions that determine global policy in these areas.'
In the joint declaration, there was no mention of the contentious Rotterdam Rules, an area in which different bodies within the GSF have had conflicting views in recent weeks — the NIT League has favored the passage of the new rules on maritime freight carriage contracts, while the ESC has opposed them.
NIT League and ESC representatives indicated at the meeting that the Rotterdam Rules were not discussed in favor of dedicating more time to issues on which the various shippers' bodies find common ground.
At the meeting, ASC Chairman John Lu said the ASC is still determining whether to support the new rules, and whether they constitute a better approach than the current rules.
'While the rules may not be perfect, it is incumbent on the ASC to determine whether they represent a better alternative than current regimes in protecting the interests of shippers,' Lu was quoted by Lloyd's List at the GSF.