Italian authorities have fined 15 companies and two trade associations more than 4 million euros ($5.3 million) for what it called a "secret cartel of shipping agents at the Port of Genoa" that operated a price fixing agreement for more than five years.
The Italian competition authority -- Autorita Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato -- said the agreement lasted from February 2004 through December 2009, if not longer.
It involved the fixing of prices for agency services, including the preparation and issue of documents such as bills of lading for exported goods and 'delivery orders' for imported goods. It said these "fixed duties" violated article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The authority said the price fixing agreement was exposed by Maersk Italia, which submitted a request for clemency and was exempted from fines for providing documentation that enabled the authority to expose the cartel.
Fines were reduced by 50 percent for Hapag-Lloyd Italy, the second company to present a request for clemency, for providing the authority with additional documents of service to the investigative proceedings.
The agency said 15 different companies and two trade associations -- Assagenti, the main trade association for shipping agencies, and Spediporto, the most representative trade association for the forwarding agencies operating on national territory -- were fined.
The information supplied by Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd enabled antitrust officials to prepare targeted inspections for gathering additional documentation as evidence of the agreement.
The agency said that while most of the operators involved in the meetings were based in the Port of Genoa, "many of the documents gathered during the investigation demonstrate how these prices exerted an impact by acting as agreed 'reference' values for the transactions taking place in other Mediterranean ports, such as Gioia Tauro, La Spezia and the Italian port system in general.
"The cartel also made it possible to define fixed duty prices that were too high to foster a genuinely competitive atmosphere, resulting in clear benefits for both shipping agents and forwarding agents, who would 'appropriate' the loyalty discounts without passing them on to final customers while 'endorsing' the tariff increases over to them as well."
The authority calculated the respective sanctions on the basis of the individual conduct of each specific company while the agreement was in effect, and the extent of their individual collaboration during the course of the investigation.
Fine amounts and additional details can be found here
. — Chris Dupin