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The $9 billion carve up of the Asciano logistics business has hit a significant hurdle with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission raising a broad range of concerns about the deal.
The complex deal is structured so that a consortiumled by the Australian listed logistics group Qube will join with another group of investor led by Canada's Brookfield Infrastructure to acquire Asciano's Patrick container business in a 50:50 joint venture.
The Pacific National rail business is intended to be separated out and owned by investment partners of both Qube and Brookfield.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the key concerns raised by numerous industry participants centre on the market power of the vertical integration model of the Patrick container loading terminals business being joined with the two largest land-based logistic businesses in Australia.
The ACCC has ruled this represented a significant lessening of competition than the current situation where Patrick is vertically integrated with only the smaller privately owned ACFS Port Logistics business.
"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," Mr Sims said.
"Qube and Brookfield will each own 50 per cent of Patrick container terminals, and may have parallel incentives to favour their landside logistics operations."
Deal 'may lessen competition in stevedoring'Another significant red flag waved by the ACCC is the pressure the merger will put on smaller stevedoring businesses competing against a new bigger, more powerful rival.
"There are also concerns regarding foreclosure of rival stevedores," Mr Sims noted.
"Market participants have suggested that if Patrick gives favourable 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."
However, the ACCC announcement stops short of blocking the deal, instead inviting further feedback on the likelihood of competition being lessened at Australian ports as well as in land-based logistics and stevedoring if the deal is waved through.
Submissions close on June 10 and the ACCC said it expected to announce its final decision on July 21.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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