On 7 January 2022, the Belgian Competition Authority approved the merger of the Port of Antwerp and the Port of Zeebrugge, now becoming the unified Port of Antwerp-Bruges.
On 4 November 2021, the Port of Antwerp and the Port of Zeebrugge notified their merger plans to the Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) in the framework of its merger control competence. The plans for combining the companies, discussed over many years, were officially announced early in 2021 but were delayed because of the ongoing pandemic.
The transaction parties, the Port of Antwerp and the Port of Zeebrugge, are active in the sectors of hydraulic engineering, water transport, cold- and other storaging, transport support and the rental and exploitation of terrains. The Port of Antwerp is the second most important European port after Rotterdam.
Due to the strong position of the parties on the markets concerned, the proposed merger could not benefit from a simplified procedure, which resulted in a more complete file to be submitted, longer deadlines and the referral to the Competition College, which is competent to approve or reject the operation.
The BCA’s investigation specifically focused on the impact of the merger on the markets for port concessions and general and specific port services for containers, fluid bulk and ro-ro cargo.
During the procedure, the merger parties will have emphasised the notable efficiency gains in terms of improved capacity, scalability and specialisation resulting from the parties’ complementary product portfolios and geographical activities. In this respect, the Port of Antwerp has the second largest chemical cluster in the world and is also known for its important stake in container transport serving China, the Americas and Turkey, whereas the Port of Zeebrugge is the largest car port in the world and has a key LNG terminal mainly serving the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Russia and China.
The new entity, named “Port of Antwerp-Bruges”, will be the largest container port in Europe in terms of tons, further strengthening its competitive position worldwide. As the second largest Port in Europe overall, it will process 278 million tons of goods each year. The respective companies, under the integrated management structure, will now combine their investment forces to benefit innovation, digitalisation, green energy and overall sustainability and logistical efficiency.
In the notification procedure, interested third parties were able to submit their remarks on the proposed transaction by 18 November 2021. The Competition College concluded that the merger is unlikely to give rise to effects justifying a disapproval of the transaction or the attachment of commitments.
The BCA therefore authorised the merger on 7 January 2022.
Annabelle Lepièce, Partner, Brussels
Sander De Volder, Junior Associate, Brussels