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1. Should shipping brace for another round of competition probes?

Shipping is never far from the scrutiny of competition authorities. But with the EU seeking comments on the way liner shipping is regulated as it considers whether to extend the current set of competition rules for a further five years, debate is likely to get a little more heated than usual.

The shippers’ view is a well-rehearsed argument that states container shipping under the current alliance system is restricting competition, falsely inflating pricing and failing to improve service standards for customers. But the EU competition authorities are well aware of the market realities and have led the way in overhauling its antitrust rules for ocean carriers, with the removal of the block exemption for conferences in 2008, and now a review of its consortia regulation that is due to expire in 2020.

The US and Canada, however, have done little for the past 20 years and reform is well overdue according to this year’s winner of the prestigious Onassis Prize for Shipping. That is a position likely to spark some interesting debate, not least at the European Maritime Law Organisation’s annual conference next week where US Federal Maritime Commissioner Rebecca Dye will be discussing developments in the international oversight of shipping.

It might be an opportune moment to review the largely unremarked comments from UNCTAD’s report earlier this month which stated: “There is a need to assess the implications of mergers and alliances and of vertical integration within the industry, and to address any potential negative effects”. Time for shipping to brace for another round of dawn raids from the competition authorities?

More from Lloyd's List:
US and Canada urged to update ocean shipping competition rules

2. Digital investment gathers momentum, but standardisation is needed

MSC’s announcement this week that they will equip 50,000 dry cargo containers with tracking devices offers an important step towards supply chain visibility. But there is a bigger picture here worth considering. For all the opportunities being touted by new digital technologies, the shipping industry still has a real blocker to its wider blockchain ambitions. Real-time, end-to-end visibility across the global supply chain is the dream, offering faster, cheaper and more reliable logistics operations, but is it is a pipe dream?

The wider industry is still plagued by a fragmented approach to data standardisation. There’s been a lot of talk recently about ways to tackle the problem, including calls for a new ‘UN’ style body that could enforce a standardised approach. That would be a tall order, but solutions are needed.

Individual investments like MSC’s are to be applauded, but the wider goals of supply chain efficiency will not be achieved without common data definitions and a greater willingness amongst key industry stakeholders to start talking practically about a future where data sharing becomes a practical reality.Oh, and if there is a willingness to talk about a new body to address standards, might we also suggest industry-wide standards on cargo declarations?

More from Lloyd's List: 
MSC to equip up o 50,000 boxes with trackers
A United Nations for liner shipping?
Talks held to stamp out cargo declaration abuses

3. Trade outlook and shipping's decaf dilemma

The recent slew of global economic data has offered a mixed bag of conclusions, so if you’re looking for a deeper dive into the macro picture, the impact of trade tariffs and what it all means we can heartily recommend a listen to this week’s Lloyd’s List Podcast.

The IMF may have downgraded its GDP forecast, but happily the headline numbers coming out of Asia, and the transpacific rates, continue to show some semblance of business-as-usual with little indication of any real impact from the escalating trade tensions with the US and China. In terms of shipping it seems the markets are continuing to move forward, for now. But of course wildcards remain prevalent in everyone’s thinking right now, not least the remaining uncertainty around the 2020 sulphur cap, so (spoiler alert) we are tackling that too in this week’s discussion.

According to our guest this week, the shipping consultant Mark Williams, 2020 is effectively like ordering a decaff coffee, although you will have to listen to it to find out why. And if anyone’s still suffering under the delusion that this is somehow a question for next year – we suggest you think again. With increasing oil prices, the shipping industry will need to deal with volatile fuel prices well before the low-sulphur rules kick in.

Listen to the Lloyd's List Podcast: 
Joining Lloyd’s List Editor Richard Meade on the podcast this week is former Affinity Research, now independent shipping consultant, Mark Williams. The two of them talk trade outlook, Chinese-fuelled optimism and why 2020 is much like ordering a decaf macchiato.


4. Container traffic across the Pacific is surging despite tensions

Spot freight rates on the Asia-US west coast trade have surged to the highest level in more than five years, as rate momentum continues. Now that may not last, but it does rather highlight the point we have been making for some time - the trade tariffs on Chinese goods by the US are having a limited impact, so far.

Before any allows complacency to set in though, let’s consider the recent warning from UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi who said: “While the prospects for seaborne trade are positive, these are threatened by the outbreak of trade wars and increased inward-looking policies. Escalating protectionism and tit-for-tat tariff battles will potentially disrupt the global trading system which underpins demand for maritime transport.”

Read more on Lloyd's List:
Asia-US west coast spot rates at five-year high

5. What's on your list of key questions for 2019?

Clearly the key question for most right now is ‘have I made it on the Lloyd’s List Top 100 this year? But apart from that we are aware there might be a few outstanding issues to consider for 2019 and beyond.

Fear not, the annual Lloyd’s List Outlook is in the works and it promises to shine a light on the darkest recesses of, as yet, unanswered market mysteries. But in the spirit of transparency and crowd-sourcing some inspiration we thought we would open up the conversation and ask you what you would like to see covered. What are the questions you want to answers to and where would you like to see us focus our editorial firepower in 2019?

Get in touch with your suggestions – we would genuinely appreciate your input.



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