South Korea’s antitrust watchdog yesterday fined 23 domestic and foreign shippers a combined 96.2 billion won (US$80.84 million) for price-fixing, including three Taiwanese container shippers — Evergreen Marine Corp (長榮海運), Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp (陽明海運) and Wan Hai Lines Ltd (萬海航運) — the Central News Agency and Japan’s Nikkei Asia reported.
Korea Marine Transport Co and Sinokor Merchant Marine Co instigated the collusion by raising freight rates for routes between South Korea and Southeast Asia, China and Japan, and they were later joined by other foreign and domestic firms, the Korea Fair Trade Commission said, citing the results of an investigation.
From 2003 to 2018, the shippers met 120 times to set costs of container cargo services, the commission said.
The 23 firms hid collective transaction actions that were not allowed under the country’s fair-trade regulations, it said.
Customers who did not accept the freight rates the shippers set were denied service, it said.
The total fines were much lower than the 800 billion won that a review committee recommended and there has been criticism that the sanctions were too light, the media reports said.
Korea Marine Transport faces the largest fine of 29.6 billion won, the commission said.
The fines are subject to an appeal filed with the country’s administrative court.
Yang Ming Marine Transport general manager Tu Shu-chin (杜書勤) expressed surprise at the ruling.
Many shippers are members of the Intra-Asia Discussion Agreement, an institution with a long history, Tu told the Taipei Times by telephone, adding that discussions among its members should not be considered price fixing.
Another manager at one of the three Taiwanese firms said on condition of anonymity that if members of the intra-Asia group were to set shipping rates explicitly, it would be price setting, but “there should be some space for argument.”
“Even though the commission has levied the fines, there is a slim chance that local container shippers will take a hard stance against the regulator, as they still have to continue managing the South Korean market, which has big clients such as LG Corp,” the second manager said.
The three shippers had not received notification from the commission and they would consider legal action, including an appeal, to protect shareholders’ interests, the three firms said in separate filings with the Taiwan Stock Exchange.
The regulator fined Wan Hai Lines 11.51 billion won, Evergreen Marine 3.399 billion won and Yang Ming Marine Transport 2.419 billion won, the media reports said.
The fine should not have a significant impact on its finances, Yang Ming Marine Transport said, adding that it had liaised with lawyers to assist with the case to protect its interests.
Evergreen Marine said that it would clarify the details after receiving a sanction letter from the regulator and would lodge an appeal if necessary to ensure its interests.
Wan Hai Lines said that the fine would not affect its financial standing, but it would discuss with lawyers how to proceed with the case.
Additional reporting by CNA
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