BRUSSELS, Belgium – In the past months container freight pricing on the spot market has risen excessively, despite the declining transportation volume from Asia to Europe. Importers are complaining bitterly as sea freight container prices have gone up from US$ 700 to US$ 4,000.
Not surprisingly, the high prices are raising questions on illegal price fixing. Therefore, as one of the last actions of Neelie Kroes as European Competition Commissioner she announced an investigation on container freights pricing to Rotterdam.
Insiders say that due to the economic downturn, shipping traders have laid up hundreds of merchant ships to reduce the total transport capacity. This strategy of a substantial number of shipping traders does not only limit the cargo space available but also pushes up the prices.
In October 2008 the shipping traders had to stop their so called conference system, whereby price fixing was forbidden. Instead the shipping traders were forced to openly publish their rates. Comments from shipping traders on the allegations of price fixing say: “Today all rates are published and the market is strictly following the highest price in order to survive the through these economic hard times.”