By Maria Koliasta*
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced its decision on the 28th of December imposing a fine of 407 million yuan ($63 million) on seven shipping lines. The NDRC reached that conclusion after finding the aforementioned companies responsible for price fixing in the transportation of vehicles and heavy equipment. According to NDRC such a price collusion ‘had hurt the interests of China’s importers and exporters, and violated the country’s 2008 anti-monopoly law’.
The companies accused of wrongdoing were Korea’s Eukor Car Carriers Inc., Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha and Eastern Car Liner Ltd., Mitsui OSK lines, Norway’s Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS, Chile’s Cia Sud Americana de Vapores SA and its shipping line. The companies acknowledged their responsibility.
The NDRC noted that the eight shipping companies, previously mentioned, were involved in price fixing and sales planning, which involved an exchange of sensitive information. Frequent bilateral or multilateral communications on prices took place, in particular whether one of the companies had the intention of increasing its price and to what extent. In addition, investigators noticed that shippers improperly coordinated bids and routes to maintain prices high. In the light of the foregoing, the NDRC imposed a fine on seven companies. Japan’s Nippon Yusen cooperated with the investigators and was granted full immunity from fines.
In calculating the fine for each of the seven companies, the NDRC took into account the firm’s international shipping sales to and from China. The fine imposed corresponded to 4 – 9% of those sales. The highest fine of approximately $44 million was imposed on Eukor.
The breakdown of the fines imposed to each company for their participation in the cartel is as follows:
|Company’s name||Fine imposed (Chinese Yuan)|
|Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK||0 (benefited from immunity)|
|Mitsui OSK lines||38 million|
|Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha||23,98 million|
|Eastern Car Liner Ltd||11.27 million|
|Norway’s Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS||45 million|
|Chile’s Cia. Sud Americana de Vapores SA (CSAV)||3.07 million|
|CSAV’s roll-on, roll-off shipping unit||1.19 million|
|Korea’s Eukor Car Carriers Inc||284 million|
According to the Bloomberg, Eukor will not dispute the NDRC decision and will pay the fine of 284 million yuan. The company has also carried out a comprehensive competition compliance program. Eastern Car Liner ‘will execute what was directed immediately, said Yoshihisa Inmasu, the general manager of its general affairs department’. The firm will initiate more rigorous and detailed legal compliance measures. Kawasaki Kisen ‘is restructuring to carry out compliance, said spokesman Masaya Futakuchi’.
Lastly, it must be borne in mind that the probe comes behind similar investigations initiated by the European Commission in 2013 and Japan’s Fair Trade Commission. In particular, the European Commission targeted shipping lines (AP Moeller-Maersk A/S, CMA CGM SA and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co.) in a 2013 probe over hints that a disclosure of their general rate increases allowed companies to coordinate prices. Additionally, Japanese regulators conducted dawn-raids in the offices of five shipping lines in 2013 over suspicions that they discussed increasing the rates together for transporting cars, and fined Nippon Yusen and Kawasaki Kisen in January 2014.
*Stagiare Attorney at WilmerHale (Brussels)
LLM, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
Disclaimer: the post reflects the author’s own views and by no means those of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.
 NDRC Statement of the 28th of December 2015.