INSTITUTIONAL BATTLE OVER MINIMUM COSTS IN TRANSPORT CONTRACTS
In a document sent to the Ministry for Infrastructures and Transport, the road transport Council and the road transport Observatory, the Antitrust Authority again rejected the setting up of operating costs that the majority of trade associations want. The associations responded
UNCERTAINTY about the sensitive question of applying minimum costs to road transport contracts will continue until the end of June. And the “big shots” have recently entered the debating arena. The Ministry for Infrastructures and Transport has in fact defended minimum costs following the stance taken against it by the Antitrust Authority. In a letter to the Guarantor Authority, parliamentary private secretary Mario Torsello explained that from a regulatory point of view, only Parliament (or the judiciary committee of the Constitutional Court) can correct, amend or abrogate the laws of the Republic of Italy, “but when Parliament” – he emphasized in a note to Assotir – “had the chance, not only did it not do so, it also made the regulation more forceful by comparing the situation of haulage on the basis of written contracts with that of haulage that has only had verbal contracts”.
Torsello then explained that “because of the disturbing acrimoniousness of the meeting with the contractors, technical investigations have begun with all those involved, with the aim of verifying whether the regulation can be simplified (…) thereby facilitating its application” and trusted that “also on the basis of clarifications and documentation issued by the structures of the relevant Ministry, the Authority will examine the entire question”.
Defending the law on minimum safety costs launched by Parliament in 2008, Torsello pointed out in his letter to the president of the Competition Authority – who had talked about a return to minimum tariffs – the difference between minimum operating costs and the price of the service itself: the former refers only to the cost of the uncontainable factors of production, the latter, as with all entrepreneurial activities, includes the margins necessary to ensure a profit for the entrepreneur, his partners and shareholders.
Now awaited are the next moves by the Antitrust Authority and, subsequently, the result of the appeals presented by numerous contractors to the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR) Lazio, which will be the subject of discussions before the Tribunal in June.
This all began with a document sent to the Ministry for Infrastructures and Transport, the Council for Road Transport and the Road Transport Observatory by the Antitrust Authority, in which it again rejected the setting up of operating costs that the majority of trade associations want. The Competition Guarantor Authority judged and still judges that “fixing minimum prices for road haulage is artificial ” as they would in fact be obligatory tariffs.
The document states that minimum costs would “go against the principles and provisions for the protection of competition at national and Community level in that they provide for the artificial fixing of minimum prices for road haulage which corresponds to the introduction of obligatory tariffs and the absence of any parameters for road safety”.
The most preoccupying aspect for the trade associations is that this documents puts in doubt the very foundation of minimum costs and their effectiveness for safety, because they would only “make a series of contractual conditions less flexible and detract from free negotiation between the parties”.
In reply to the note from the Authority, Paolo Uggè, president of Fai Conftrasporto, stated that the positions of the Antitrust Authority “endorse the arguments of the contractors” and therefore require “a decisive stance to be taken by Unatras organizations”. And announced: “Our association will respond to the arguments sustained by the Authority and will do its part regardless of everyone".
The Antitrust Authority also challenges the role of the Observatory where the trade associations are amply represented, with, above all, the risk of creating “wider sector coordination”, a kind of cartel of service providers.
To clarify how minimum costs were fixed, the Antitrust Authority asked the Observatory for the actions adopted to date and for clarification of the relationship with the Council for Road Transport. On completion of this explanatory stage, the Competition Guarantor Authority recommends that the competent Authorities take “appropriate and adequate measures to restore correct competitive dynamics” in virtue of the obligation not to apply actions that conflict with the fundamental principles of the Community discipline.
• Good results for heavy vehicles in 2011; downturn in commercial vehicles in the first months of 2012
According to Anfia data for 2011, in Italy the registration of heavy trucks over 3.5 tons grew overall by 7.4% compared with 2010. According to Acea data, in the same year the registrations of buses and coaches increased by 33.3% compared with 2010. As far as the registration of heavy trucks in particular are concerned, the Centro Ricerche Continental Autocarro emphasized that, though certainly significant, the growth of the Italian market in 2011 was due to a more contained rate compared with that shown by data for the entire European Union, which is 36% (and therefore almost double the figure for Italy). The situation is radically different for buses: the growth of Italian registrations was the opposite of the trend in all other European Union member States; in this area there was a 0.7% downturn in registrations
Indications of the trend in registrations of heavy trucks” – explained Daniel Gainza, commercial manager at Continental CVT – “fully reflect the current Italian economy that is characterized by uncertainty which holds back investments by companies and therefore slows down the renewal of trucks in our country”.
More updated are the data for commercial vehicles, which are not doing as well as their heavy cousins: the market for commercial vehicles – trucks with gross vehicle mass of up to 3.5 tons – continued to be negative until February.
The estimates prepared by Centro Studi dell'Unrae, the association of foreign car manufacturers in Italy, show that 11,435 vehicles were sold, a downturn of 28.3% compared with 15,945 in the same period last year. "The downturn in the vehicle sector was already considerable in the second half of 2011 (-10% in the second six months), but in the first two months of 2012 the downturn was 30.1% with 22,410 registrations compared to 32,062 in January-February last year. In just two months, the loss was almost 10,000 vehicles ", Unrae emphasized.
Commercial vehicles” – said Romano Valente, managing director of Unrae – “are strongly affected by the general economic situation and the current state of the recession in Italy. In particular, the credit crunch has repercussions for the sector and investments by small- and medium-sized enterprises, the typical buyers of commercial vehicles. We hope” – Valente concluded – “that the recommendations by the governor of the Bank of Italy and the president of the CEB, Visco and Draghi, respectively, to introduce to the financial market € 139 billion at a rate of 1% for the Italian banking system, will be followed up. It is only by easing tight credit restrictions that we can expect a recovery in buying and investments by companies that will restart the positive spiral of economic growth”.