As we sail into 2012, the headlines are full of headwinds from Europe, but I see some cause for cautious optimism in the more important trendlines for U.S. liner trades. We’ve seen upward revisions to the employment picture during the past couple of months, though we want to see more. Retail sales have shown some hints of strength recently, and inventories are lean. After a brief soft patch this summer, U.S. exports have resumed their upward swing, and are still on target to meet President Obama’s goal of doubling by early 2015.
In the trans-Pacific, container lines have cut shipping capacity by nearly 10 percent between May and November, and the FMC is watching agreements and alliances closely for signs that vessel or equipment shortages could reappear if the economy continues to gather steam. While we do not expect shortages and disruptions approaching the magnitude of early 2010, we’re on the lookout for any chokepoints that could restrain export growth or the recovery.
If disruptions or disputes between shippers and ocean carriers do arise, the FMC’s office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services stands ready to provide timely and confidential assistance. I also encourage shippers and carriers to continue working toward service contracts that provide clearer service and charge expectations and practical remedies for disputes.
At the FMC, we will continue sailing at full steam. Before the New Year, we will release our multi-year study of the impact of the EU’s repeal of its liner shipping block exemption from competition laws. We will be busy working on a congressionally requested inquiry into disparities causing U.S. ports to lose U.S.-bound cargo to our neighbors. And we will be working to modernize and improve our regulations — including our recent rate tariff publication exemption for NVOCCs — to keep pace with supply chain innovations.