As from 1 April 2016, Belgium will be introducing a kilometre-based intelligent road charge for trucks exceeding 3.5 tonnes. The new toll will replace the existing Eurovignette and will be levied on national and international trucks travelling through Belgium. The tariff will vary according to the vehicle weight and the route taken. All trucks will therefore have to be fitted with an OBU (On Board Unit) that will track the vehicle via satellite.
Belgium estimates that this toll system will generate revenues of around EUR 700 to 800 million per year, as stated in a press release from the Austrian construction group Strabag, one of the partners in the Sky-Ways consortium that won the concession.
Various industry associations have already expressed their displeasure over the new tax, viewing it as another hurdle for the competitiveness of Belgian logistics companies. The Institute for Transport via Road and Logistics (ITLB) calculated the average extra cost for carriers at 8%, and even up to 12% for the District of Brussels. The Trade Association for Carriage and Logistics of Flanders (Transport & Logistiek Vlaanderen) has already announced that every carriage or logistics company will be forced to pass this surcharge on to its customers. It believes that transferring this extra cost to customers is the most efficient way to avoid bankruptcy over the added toll.
However, if different competing transport companies mutually agree to fully pass on to their customers an expected increase in costs (such as an increase in the road toll), this agreement may violate competition rules and, more specifically, Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article IV.1, §1 of the Belgian Code of Economic Law. Even when companies do not explicitly agree together to do so but follow the advice of a professional association, this can lead to a concerted practice which restricts competition in the market and can be considered as a price cartel.
For example, the European Commission has previously penalized freight forwarders for the coordinated passing on of surcharges to customers. Recently, on 29 February 2016, the General Court of the EU confirmed the Commission's freight forwarding cartel decision against 14 international groups of airfreight forwarders, which entailed a fine of EUR 169 million (case T‑264/12).
Taking this into consideration, any clients active in the sector are advised to review any price changes they are planning to implement in order to avoid unnecessary risk.