If any forum in the container industry is surrounded by mystery and secrets, it is the Box Club.
The container industry is special compared to many other industries, as the major carriers are competitors while also operating as partners in the important alliances that exist today, as well as via the numerous Vessel Sharing Agreements (VSA) in existence, which are deals enabling the carriers to utilize space on each other's vessels on certain services.
A forum such as the Box Club, along with other meetings among competitors, only adds fuel to the fire that is the issue of competitors being a little too friendly. Another such forum is The Transpacific Stabilization Agreement (TSA), where competing carriers meet to discuss market conditions on the Pacific Ocean, after which they issue guiding rates which the carriers can choose to make use of or not.
The close-knit relationship between competitors is also one of the reasons why all cooperation agreements, and even the small VSAs, require approval from competition authorities around the world.
Authorities are watching
The most recent case in the European Union regarding price fixing, Russian authorities' raid on various container carriers, and the current case related to price agreements in South Africa, represent three examples within recent years of how authorities keep a keen eye on the arrangements between competing carriers, sometimes concluding that things have gone too far.
The most secretive forum of all these, where unlike TSA no information is ever leaked, is the exclusive Box Club. This is a forum in which only the very top figures and shipowning families participate. The agenda is undisclosed, but according to participants, the club's members are barred from discussing prices or matters that would affect free pricing, which is why "there are just as many lawyers there as there are participants," several CEOs who have been present at these meetings tell ShippingWatch.
TheBoxClub.com sells clothing
Søren Skou has been a permanent member of the club for years and has also served as Chairman. The meeting to be held in a few weeks will mark the first time that the other carrier's Chief Execs meet Skou in his current dual capacity as Maersk Line Chief Executive and Maersk Group CEO.
The meetings of the Box Club are not announced anywhere. They are held two times a year, and the next time will be Copenhagen, most likely at the Maersk headquarters in the Danish capital.
It is no coincidence that the meeting will be held on October 26th, which is likely also one reason why several of the top executives are participating in Danish Maritime Forum. This applies to Rodolphe Saadé, Vice Chairman of CMA CGM and son of the founder of the family-controlled French carrier. It also applies to former Damco CEO Rolf Habben Jansen, the current Chief Executive of Hapag-Lloyd, whose merger with Arabian UASC and, a few years ago, with Chile's CSAV, has cemented the German carrier as one of the world's dominant container players.
One of the topics likely up for discussion in Copenhagen is the weighing of containers, an area where the industry has a common interest and which is also fairly uncontroversial. Furthermore, there will be input from one of the industry's container analysts. And then there is the whole informal part of the agenda.
Unlike TSA, The Box Club does not have a website. Actually, TheBoxClub.com is a website, but it belongs to a Mexican online business which mixes and matches clothes and shoes and sends all its packages in cardboard boxes.