The biggest 3 carriers in the world (Maersk line, MSC and CMA) formed an alliance that is known as P3 alliance where the operations may start as early as second quarter of 2014 if they get the green light from the regulatory agencies. They have to get the confirmation not only by US agencies but also European and Chinese agencies and so far they have been promoting this new service with 255 ships allocation with 2.6 million Teu capacity (equal to 15% of the market). At the moment there are 2 more alliances in effect called G6 & CKYH via other carriers however these 2 alliances do not match the economies of scale that P3 will have due to # of ships and Teu amounts are much smaller.
What this means for small to medium carriers is they will be forced to order bigger vessels like 10,000 Teu and above in order to compete with low unit costs. One alternative to ordering bigger vessels will be forming new alliances with more carriers like Cosco, Hapag, Apl, Hanjin and China shipping coming together and putting all their ships in the same lane as the P3 routes. Just to give one more comparison in how big the alliance will be is 3 carriers only allocated capacity to this service equals to total capacity of Evergreen, Cosco, Hanjin and Yang Ming, in other words in this alliance there will be still more ships that maersk, msc and cma can add however the above carriers can not match this without adding new vessels to their fleet.
What this may means for importers if the alliance is approved by the regulatory agencies is they may not enjoy the low contract rates that were signed in 2013. P3 alliance will probably reverse the downward financial trend by allowing the three carriers to deploy the most suitable vessels at specific ports where it will be avoid duplicate trips and cut fuel costs. This efficiency will increase their profitability but also may drive the freight rates upward especially on certain lanes due to availability.
Regarding the regulatory process, I think this move may go through since the new alliance will have only 15% of the market share which is not enough to control the whole market decreasing the worries for price fixing and with most of the routes that they announced there will be 15 or more competing carriers so anti-trust worries maybe tough to support.