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EU Officially Launches In-Depth Investigation into HHI’s DSME Deal

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess the proposed acquisition of South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) by another shipbuilding group, Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings (HHIH), under the EU Merger Regulation.

The official launching of the full-scale probe in the European Union had been anticipated amid anti-trust concerns raised by the transaction. The commission has now 90 working days, until May 7, 2020, to make a decision.

In November, Hyundai Heavy submitted its application to the EU to take over its smaller rival. Following its preliminary market investigation, the commission has concerns that the proposed USD 1.8 billion transaction may remove DSME as an important competitive force in several global cargo shipbuilding markets. These include large containerships, oil tankers, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carriers.

Specifically, the commission has concerns that the remaining shipbuilders would not exert sufficient competitive pressure on the merged entity in the four markets concerned by the transaction. It is also concerned that the customers would not have sufficient bargaining power to constrain the merged entity.

The EU’s executive arm has also identified high barriers to entry in these markets, residing mainly in the know-how, track-record, and in some cases in mastering the relevant technology.

“The commission has concluded that it is unlikely that a timely and credible entry from other shipbuilders would counteract the possible negative effects of the transaction. The transaction may therefore significantly reduce competition in the market for cargo shipbuilding, which could lead to higher prices, less choice and reduced incentives to innovate,” according to the EC.

As explained, cargo shipbuilding is an important industry for the EU. Maritime transport represents about 30% of EU internal freight trade and 90% of EU external freight trade. European shipping companies are major customers of DSME and HHIH and represent 30% of worldwide demand for cargo ships.

“Maritime transport represents a substantial portion of the EU’s internal and external freight trade, with European shipping companies regularly purchasing vessels from DSME and HHIH, two of the leading cargo shipbuilders in the world. This is why we will carefully assess whether the proposed transaction would negatively affect competition in the construction of cargo ships, to the detriment of European consumers,” Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, responsible for competition policy, pointed out.

The latest announcement comes only three weeks after Hyundai Heavy’s DSME acquisition faced a regulatory hurdle in Singapore, resulting in the launch of an extensive review of the proposed transaction. On November 29, the competition watchdog in this country also raised concerns that the potential tie-up of the two shipyards is likely to remove competition between suppliers of LNG carriers and possibly large containerships and large oil tankers to the detriment of customers in Singapore.

In late October, HHI obtained regulatory approval in Kazakhstan for the DSME deal. Apart from decisions in the EU and Singapore, the group is awaiting approvals from regulators in South Korea, China and Japan.

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