Maersk MSC CMA P3 alliance Not Approved.

CHINA’s Ministry of Commerce has declined to approve the P3 Network, in effect killing an alliance that would have reshaped the container-shipping landscape.

Freight Operational Network Forbidden

In a strongly worded statement on its website, MofCom said on Tuesday that it had decided after a seven-month antitrust review to “forbid Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co and CMA CGM to concentrate” by setting up an operational network.

Separately, Maersk Line, one of the three would-be alliance members, announced in a statement that the decision followed a review under China’s merger-control rules.

The decision by the ministry comes as a surprise, following approval for the P3 from the US Federal Maritime Commission and, more recently, the European Commission, which said earlier this month that it would not now launch an antitrust probe into either the P3 or the G6.

“The decision does come as a surprise to us, of course, as the partners have worked hard to address all the regulators’ concerns,” Maersk chief executive Nils Andersen said in a statement.

Maersk Line chief trade and marketing officer Vincent Clerc said: “In Maersk Line we have worked hard to address the Chinese questions and concerns. So of course it is a disappointment.”

P3 Network

The intended P3 Network would have been an alliance of the world’s three largest containership lines; Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co and France’s CMA CGM.

The participants described the alliance as a long-term operational vessel-sharing agreement.

Speaking for the alliance, Maersk said in its statement: “The P3 partners take note of and respect MofCom’s decision.”

“Subsequently, the partners have agreed to stop the preparatory work on the P3 Network, and the P3 Network, as initially planned, will not come into existence.”

Maersk said the collapse of the plans for P3 would not have a material effect on its 2014 results.

It has confirmed to it has given the alliance members no right of appeal.

AP Moller-Maersk shares were down 5% on the Copenhagen stock exchange to DKr12,650 on the news.

Fellow alliance member, CMA CGM said in statement that it is confident that it “will maintain its operating performance and continue to overperform the industry”.

Chineese Shipping Decision

The decision from China at the very least casts doubt on the strength and future cohesion of rival alliance the G6, announced in late 2011, which began operations in March 2012.

The G6 has been expanding its reach into the Pacific trades, partly in response to the anticipated formation of the P3.

The G6 Alliance members are APL, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Mitsui OSK Lines, Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Orient Overseas Container Line.

The decision almost certainly alters the competitive landscape of container shipping.

All of the lines contend that the major alliances are merely operational, but with the three largest lines now unable to form capacity-sharing agreements, competition among them could well intensify, adding competitive pressure to individual members of the G6.

“[Although] the P3 never happened, it has already had a massive effect on the industry,” said Seaintel Maritime Analysis chief operating officer and partner Alan Murphy.

“The formal inclusion of Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine by the CKYH Alliance — Cosco, K-Line, Yang Ming and Hanjin — as well as the G6 expansion moves, were largely in reaction to the P3 plans.”

Referring to the individual P3 members, Mr Murphy said: “Entering into a long-term, 10-year strategic alliance to optimise their network is a position that has not been taken lightly.”

“Put another way, if you are planning to marry someone and right before the ceremony it falls apart, that is a major change in your life.

“It’s definitely not what they want.”

He concluded: “It could be speculated that the three participants might look to salvage what they can, into vessel-sharing agreements and new consolidations.”

This view is shared by Anthony Woolich, a partner at law firm Holman Fenwick Willan.

“The decision by MOFCOM to block P3 still potentially leaves open the possibility of some co-operation between the parties, and the Maersk website comment does say only that ‘the P3 Network as originally planned will not come into existence,” Mr Woolich said.