On Oct. 21, the European Commission published a preliminary draft block exemption Regulation for liner shipping companies participating in consortia arrangements. Liner shipping essentially involves the provision of regular services on which cargo is transported by container; consortia are defined as arrangements between two or more carriers that provide international liner shipping services exclusively for the carriage of cargo, chiefly by container, and the object of which is to bring about cooperation in the joint operation of a maritime transport service.  

Consortia arrangements have benefited from a block exemption since 1995, and the European Commission recently held a consultation period, inviting comments on a draft Regulation revising the existing block exemption that is due to expire April 25, 2010 (the submitted comments are now available on the European Commission’s website at: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/antitrust/legislation/ maritime/). If adopted, the revised Regulation will remain in force until 2015.  

An accompanying technical paper published by the European Commission explains that consortia generally help to improve the productivity and quality of liner shipping services through the economies of scale and efficiency they allow in the operation of vessels and utilization of port facilities; customers benefit from the improvements in service quality and the global coverage that such arrangements bring about.  

This review comes at a time when the European Commission has been phasing out other sector-specific block exemptions, such as the aviation block exemption and the liner conference block exemption, and when the only other sectoral block exemption regulations in force (the Insurance Block Exemption and the Motor Vehicle Block Exemption) are undergoing review, with the possibility that they will not be renewed. This could therefore be the last sector-specific block exemption adopted by the European Commission.