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Airline trade body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is distancing itself from Commerce Commission allegations of cartel activity in the air cargo market.

On Monday, the commission announced it was taking legal action against 13 airlines for "extensive and long term" cartel activity.

It said that airlines throughout the world colluded to raise the price of freighting cargo by imposing fuel surcharges for more than seven years.

Airlines first entered into an illegal global agreement in 1999/2000 under the auspices of IATA, the commission said.

Today IATA said it rejected as "inaccurate and without merit" the commission's suggestion that any alleged illegal conduct surrounding fuel surcharges was conducted under its auspices.

IATA airlines did consider and adopt a fuel surcharge mechanism in the late 1990s through properly convened meetings in accordance with established procedures, IATA said.

That was filed with governments around the world as was customary with IATA resolutions under the usual condition that it would not come into force until receiving necessary regulatory clearances.

"As these approvals were not forthcoming, the surcharge resolution was not declared effective by IATA," the organisation said.

"In fact, once the US Department of Transportation denied granting approval to the resolution, IATA promptly informed its airline members that it would not be declared effective and that any decisions to impose a fuel surcharge would have to be made unilaterally."

Air New Zealand, one of the airlines the commission is taking action against, accused the commission of grandstanding.

Air NZ general counsel John Blair said the commission had been unable or unwilling to provide any evidence to show the airline had breached any laws.

- NZPA