Other issues of general interest. Other issues that may be important beyond the marine sector are the following. Vessel Sharing Agreement (VSA) and Voluntary Discussions Agreement (VDA) are common practices in the shipping industry. Since it is difficult to convince the Commission that discussions on prices and trading conditions between independent economic operators would not be contrary to the competition regulation, the parties have little alternative to cease participating in such discussions, at least to the extent that they have the purpose or effect of restricting competition in Hong Kong markets. Voluntary discussion agreements. As noted above, the Commission is not yet convinced that this type of agreement should be exempted by category. Although the Commission does not expressly exclude it, the analysis contained in the preliminary opinion suggests that it is unlikely that the Commission will be able to apply the exclusion of economic efficiency to agreements or practices that take into account price recommendations or discussions on prices and trade conditions between independent economic operators. The Commission`s approach to voluntary discussion agreements is different from that adopted in Singapore, but reflects the same view as the EU and Malaysian competition authorities. Public consultation allows shipping companies and their customers and suppliers to provide the Commission with advice on the text of the proposed category exemption regulation. The Commission`s very detailed explanatory statement, which supports its proposal, should help these stakeholders to develop their positions.
It also warns parties in other economic sectors that any request for similar contracts will likely lead to long and thorough cooperation with the Commission, which would involve an intensive public consultation process. Based on the results of the public consultation, it seems unlikely that an order will be adopted for line shipping until the first quarter of 2017. Restricting competition. The statement only briefly discusses whether the relevant agreements would result in a restriction of competition, which would be covered by the first rule of conduct. However, this brief discussion provides some useful lessons, particularly with regard to ship-sharing agreements. The Commission considers provisionally that vessel-sharing agreements are potentially competitively restrictive, but that they provide sufficient benefits to justify their exclusion from the prohibition of restrictive agreements under the first rule of conduct where certain conditions are met. However, on the basis of the information received so far, the Commission cannot find sufficient benefits from voluntary discussion agreements that would justify its exclusion, in particular because of the very significant restrictions that can result from price discussions between competitors. Global analysis of economic efficiency. Where agreements and practices result in or result in the effect or effect of a restriction of competition, a violation of the first rule of conduct can nevertheless be avoided if efficiency gains outweigh competition restrictions.