Nearly 300 U.S. agriculture and forest products companies and associations, including the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, U.S. Dairy Export Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation, have delivered a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, urging immediate attention to challenges currently being imposed by vessel-operating common carriers (VOCCs) who are declining to ship U.S. agricultural commodity exports from U.S. ports. The stakeholders warn that the actions are imposing hundreds of millions of dollars in punitive charges that have already been deemed unreasonable by the Federal Maritime Commission.
“The burden on hardworking exporters, manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and our rural communities is overwhelming,” the signees noted in the letter. “We urge the Department of Transportation to utilize all existing authorities to remedy the challenges experienced by U.S. agricultural exporters.”
According to the letter, consolidation in the ocean shipping industry over the past decade has led to a complete reliance on less than a dozen foreign carriers to deliver U.S. agricultural products overseas. The booming ecommerce business right now has resulted in VOCCs delivering massive volumes of imported shipments to U.S. ports but then electing to leave without refilling empty containers with American goods and products in order to have a quicker turnaround. Congestions at U.S. ports has only exacerbated the situation.
The letter further reported that carriers are failing to provide accurate notice to U.S. exporters of arrival/departure and cargo loading times, but then are imposing penalties on the exporters for “missing” those loading windows.
Action needed now
With more than 20% of agriculture products being transported abroad, the financial estimate of the situation is nearly $1.5 billion in lost agriculture exports, the letter explained.
“These losses come on the heels of trade conflict and pandemic that have wiped away markets globally.”
While stakeholders have supported the Federal Maritime Commission’s investigation as well as its Rule setting forth guidelines for Detention and Demurrage, the stakeholders said action, not additional studies, is needed now.
“We ask the Department of Transportation to assist the Commission in expediting its enforcement options,” they noted. “Additionally, we urge the Department of Transportation to consider its existing authorities to determine how it can assist with the transportation needs of the U.S. exporters and the farmers and ranchers they serve, in overcoming the current challenges in shipping goods and products.”