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Asciano takeover raises competition concerns

SYDNEY: May 26, 2016. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says its review of the proposed A$9 billion acquisition of rail and logistics company Asciano by rival Qube and Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has prompted a “very large number” of industry concerns, according to ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

Asciano's business includes container terminal operations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth that have a capacity of 4.9 million TEUs; port, terminal and supply chain services (right) ; and nationwide rail operations with the capacity to move 180 million tonnes of freight across mineral and bulk haulage, steel and intermodal sectors.

As part of the transaction, Qube and Brookfield would acquire Asciano's Patrick Container Terminals business for A$2.9 billion in a 50/50 joint venture.

ASCIANO automotive“Market participants have expressed concerns about the vertical integration of Patrick container terminals with the two largest landside import-export container logistics providers in Australia, Qube and ACFS. The ACCC considers this to be a significantly greater degree of vertical integration than the current situation where Patrick is vertically integrated with only ACFS,” said Sims.

Since it began its review in March 2016, the ACCC has talked with importer/exporters, shipping lines, stevedores, road and rail logistics providers, governments, freight forwarders, port authorities, empty container park operators and industry bodies.

As a result it says stakeholders throughout the import/export container supply chain have expressed concerns about the proposed acquisition.

“The ACCC is concerned that Patrick container terminals may provide preferential access to Qube and ACFS vehicles, and Qube regional export trains running into Port Botany, and raise rivals’ costs. Qube and Brookfield will each own 50 per cent of Patrick container terminals, and may have parallel incentives to favor their landside logistics operations,” Sims explained.

“There are also concerns regarding foreclosure of rival stevedores. Market participants have suggested that if Patrick gives favorable treatment to the container logistics operations of both Qube and ACFS, then Qube and ACFS may provide a superior service offering to importers and exporters on condition that they use shipping lines calling at Patrick container terminals. This may lessen competition in stevedoring,” he noted.

In addition the ACCC is considering whether stevedoring and empty container park services will be bundled together in a way that forecloses rival stevedore operations.

“The ACCC is now seeking additional feedback from interested parties on the likelihood of competition being lessened in container landside logistics at each port, the provision of regional rail container export services into Port Botany, and stevedoring,” Sims continued.

The ACCC expects to make a final ruling on the proposed takeover by July 21, 2016.

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