Thursday, March 22, 2018

General Rate Increases (GRI) in Liner Shipping: Do they matter?

Advance Price Announcements (GRIs) in liner shipping have long been a bone of contention among shippers and competition authorities alike. Grudges include lack of transparency and the “usefulness” of public announcements by and large.

Liner rates are complex structures that include various, often obscure, components, such as BAFs, CAFS, etc. Regarding public announcements on the other hand, and as the argument goes, if carriers only wanted to inform their clients of future price increases, they could do so directly (e.g. by letter or email), without recourse to public announcements in the Press. Economic theory suggests that, in a cartelized market, advance price announcements by one producer (carrier) might lead to actual price increases by its competitors.

Recently, the European Commission and the Russian Competition Authority (Federal Antitrust Service -FAS) have instigated investigations, adopting “remedies” that virtually annul any possible impact of GRIs on actual freight rates.

But was this effort necessary?

New econometric research appearing in MEL shortly shows that the impact of GRIs on actual prices, if any, is minimal and if it exists it exists only under specific market conditions. Moreover, assuming GRIs could have some effect on competition, they constitute explicit collusion and economic theory says that such collusion is attempted only when the ‘conspirators’ are unable to sustain for long tacit collusion (which is the real concern of competition authorities).

Much ado about nothing therefore? Shouldn’t we be spending our time instead on the grave consequences of alliances and of shipping industry concentration?

I (and many shippers and consumers) think so.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Djibouti, Dubai and China: Containers overboard!

Following a long legal dispute with the concessionaire (DP World of Dubai, UAE), the Government of Djibouti decided today to unilaterally terminate the concession and seize the Doraleh Container Terminal (DCT), operated by DP World. From what it is known, the dispute concerns the government’s wish to renegotiate the concession agreement; and no doubt, DP World understands what this means… But there’s more to this dispute that meets the eye.

In view of its geographical location on the Horn of Africa (Gulf of Aden; see map), and its function both as a gateway port to Ethiopian trade and as transshipment hub, Djibouti is a very strategic port and a modern day Cerberus, watching the entrance to the even more strategic Red Sea.

As a result, Chinese interests in this port-city  are also very strong: China Merchant Holding International (CMHI) has developed and financed the new Doraleh Multipurpose Port (DMP), next to the defunct old port, so as to relieve city congestion and turn the old port and its waterfront into a business and recreational district. A Free Trade Zone is also being planned by CMHI next to DMP.

As competitors, DP World and CMHI do not quite see eye to eye, and doubtful if they could both ‘fit’ in the tiny state, even if they wanted. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly known that UAE is deploying naval forces in the neigh of Djibouti, while China has already been promised a naval base there.

In conclusion, let me say for one more time: “trade and infrastructure” go a bit further than just counting containers and making port rankings; quite a bit actually...