testata inforMARE

20 ottobre 2020 Il quotidiano on-line per gli operatori e gli utenti del trasporto 01:51 GMT+2

7. A Few Large Active Participants, Stabilization Agreements and Shipping Conferences

The effect of the evolution in intermodal transport - in particular, container transport (consortia, alliances, etc.) on the main international routes - is that there are fewer and fewer influential participants of significant dimensions with a determining role. And Conferences which were once charter agreements between ten, twelve or even twenty often medium-sized and sometimes medium-to-large sized participants, have turned into agreements between three or four very large complexes. Clearly, the procedures will also be different with respect to the past given the change in number and influence of the participants.

The market is evolving towards forms of oligopoly, albeit with considerable differences in configuration. Sometimes the relative homogeneity underlying the different services offered, together with the relative similarity of the size of the main groups, may lead to forms of collusion, perhaps following periods of bitter competition over charters. In other cases a few very large complexes find themselves operating in a market characterized by the presence of various medium-sized enterprises. In both instances it is not hard to understand why the outcome (while following different paths and with different objectives) is the establishment of the "stabilization agreements" of recent times between large alliances and groups.

Against this background and also in the light of US deregulation of shipping transport in 1984, the Conferences risk having simply to acknowledge price conditions and contractual procedures stipulated by each of the large groups, pricing and service procedures foreseen in contracts between large carriers and large shippers, and pricing and service procedures provided for in the stabilization agreements - and this regardless of the relationships between the above elements and the tariff schedules and transport conditions normally laid down in the course of the Conferences' own activity. This state of affairs replaces the former power to enforce tariffs, deferred rebates, loyalty bonuses, dual rates, etc., which characterized the charter agreement in times past, admittedly together with all the shortcomings of the conference system.

It is ironic, today, to consider just how often the Conferences were censured in the past - at least by the shippers - for wielding monopoly power. Once they were actors in a type of market which tended to maintain an almost pluralist level of supply, characterized by enterprises which were very often medium-sized and only occasionally large-sized. Whereas, nowadays, with the transformation of their traditional role, the prevailing market form is that of a basically solid oligopoly, or an oligopoly characterized by the presence of strong leaders and other "followers".

On the other hand, in the present day, the shippers' front, united via the "Shipper Councils" with the aim of counterbalancing the virtual monopoly power of the conference carriers, precisely as a result of the establishment of the special agreements between large carriers and large shippers, constitutes an involution of the tendency to strengthen the united representation of the shippers.


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