By Park Jae-hyuk China has warned of potential retaliation against the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s attempt to fine shipping companies, including dozens of Chinese firms, for their alleged collusion to fix the freight rates for sea routes between the two countries over more than a decade. According to industry officials, on Monday, South Korea’s antitrust watchdog sent its review report on March 25 to around 20 shipping companies from South Korea, China and Japan to tell them of its plan to fine them for simultaneously raising freight rates for the South Korea-China and South Korea-Japan routes. The measure was taken about two months after the Korea Fair Trade Commission decided in January to fine 23 shipping companies, including 11 foreign firms, a combined 96.2 billion won (US$79 million) for 15 years of alleged collusion to fix the freight rates for sea routes between South Korea and Southeast Asia. The watchdog plans to hold a meeting on April 27 to determine the amount of the fines for the shipping companies that sailed the South Korea-China route. The penalties on the shipping companies that sailed the South Korea-Japan route will be determined at its April 28 meeting. If the [Korea Fair Trade Commission] fines shipping companies for fixing freight rates for the Korea-China route, the shipping agreement between the two countries will become virtually invalid Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, which supervises the shipping industry, has maintained a negative stance on the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s sanctions, saying it is unreasonable and thoughtless to prohibit “collaborative actions” that are allowed by international law. “We have continued persuading the [Korea Fair Trade Commission], using all possible measures,” said a government official from the maritime ministry’s shipping policy division. The ministry has been especially worried about possible diplomatic friction with China, because the Chinese government sent letters in May and July last year to the Korean government, expressing its concerns over the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s investigation into shipping companies that sailed the South Korea-China route. “If the [Korea Fair Trade Commission] fines shipping companies for fixing freight rates for the Korea-China route, the shipping agreement between the two countries will become virtually invalid,” the ministry said. “We are concerned about possible protest from the Chinese government and annulment of the shipping agreement between the two countries.” The Korea Fair Trade Commission, however, has remained silent on the maritime ministry’s claim. Shipping companies have threatened to file an administrative lawsuit against the Korea Fair Trade Commission. “We hired a law firm to discuss possible countermeasures,” a Korea Shipowners’ Association official said. “We will file a lawsuit, as soon as the [Korea Fair Trade Commission] determines sanctions on shipping companies that sailed the Korea-China and Korea-Japan routes.” South Korea’s Yoon Suk-yeol to ‘keep a distance’ from China The association has also been engaging in a petition campaign to collect 10 million signatures urging the Korea Fair Trade Commission to withdraw its decision. In addition, it plans to send a letter to president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, hoping for him to side with shipping companies, based on his business-friendly stance. There is greater likelihood of Yoon supporting shipping companies, since the maritime ministry sent its shipping and logistics bureau head to the presidential transition committee’s second economy division in charge of industrial policies. The incoming administration has also been urged to make efforts for the passage of revisions to the Marine Transportation Act, which will exempt collaborative actions among shipping companies from antitrust regulations. If the National Assembly passes the revised bill, the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s sanctions will be nullified. Read the full story at The Korea Times.