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China rejects shipping alliance between European firms
by Staff Writers
Copenhagen (AFP) June 17, 2014

Chinese premier backs Scotland to stay in UK
London (AFP) June 17, 2014 - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Tuesday he wanted to see a "united" Britain, as Scotland prepares to vote on independence.

Asked about the September 18 referendum on whether Scotland should remain in the UK, Li said he wanted a "strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom".

Li was speaking on a visit to London, at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Cameron's Conservative Party, their Liberal Democrat partners in government and the Labour main opposition want Scotland to stay in the UK.

Li's comments come after US President Barack Obama suggested earlier this month that Scotland would be better off voting to remain part of the union.

"From the outside at least it looks like things have worked pretty well," Obama said.

Li told reporters at the Foreign Office that he welcomed a "strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom".

"I believe that the United Kingdom can stay at the forefront in leading the world's growth and development and also continue to play an important and even bigger role for regional stability and global peace," he continued.

But "we certainly respect the choice you make", he added.

Li's comments were dismissed by Yes Scotland campaign, which is backed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party.

"Unlike people in China, people here will have a free and democratic vote on September 18 when they will decide on the future of their country," a spokesman said.

"We believe that decision will be Yes."

An ICM poll for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper at the weekend put the "Yes" vote for independence on 36 percent and the "No" vote on 43 percent, while 21 percent said they were undecided.

In a surprise decision, China on Tuesday blocked an alliance among the world's three largest container operators, including Denmark's A.P. Moeller-Maersk, citing a negative impact on competition.

The alliance would have teamed Maersk up with France's CMA CGM and the Swiss MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company in the so-called P3 Network, which they announced in June last year.

The aim was to cut costs on Asia-Europe, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes by creating a system similar to code-sharing agreements among airlines, allowing the companies to put cargo on each others vessels.

But China's commerce ministry said in a statement it had decided to prohibit the alliance after conducting an anti-trust assessment.

The ministry said the alliance, had it gone ahead, would "have a far-reaching impact on the global shipping industry and cause a high level of concern in all sectors".

It added that the alliance would increase the parties' "combined capacity in container shipping on Asia-Europe routes" and give them a "substantial increase in market concentration".

The decision may be an indication that China is becoming less tolerant of business agreements that it sees as detrimental to competition.

So far China has blocked only one merger, the planned acquisition of Chinese juice maker Huiyuan in 2009 by US-based Coca-Cola.

Mario Mariniello, a specialist on competition policy and regulatory issues at the Brussels based think tank Bruegel, noted that in 97 percent of cases China's competition body MOFCOM has approved mergers without requiring any commitments.

However, he noted that in China "the impact on national competitors is a factor" while "in Europe, you only take into account the impact on customers."

In response to China's decision the shipping companies said they were giving up the plan.

"Today, the Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China announced that they have not approved the P3 Network," Maersk said in a statement.

"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," it added.

The decision was not expected to impact the group's annual results, said Maersk.

"The decision does come as a surprise to us, of course, as the partners have worked hard to address all the regulators' concerns," chief executive Nils S. Andersen said.

The alliance had already been greenlighted by regulators in Europe and the United States and would have enabled Maersk to reduce costs and carbon emissions. Andersen said he was "quite confident Maersk Line will accomplish those improvements anyway."

The group's shipping business has outperformed the troubled sector over the past few quarters partly due to cost cuts.

"Maersk is the one that suffers the least from this drawback because they have the highest margins," Germany's MainFirst bank analyst Tobias Stig told AFP.

"The other two had much to win."

Maersk's A-share closing price was down by 5.1 percent on the Copenhagen bourse, where the main index was 0.11 percent lower.



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