The Federal Maritime Commission is doing its part to promote exports under President Obama’s National Export Initiative by ensuring that carriers treat all of their customers equally.
For exporters, the commission’s message is that carriers should not treat their shipments as “backhaul” cargo, but rather as freight deserving the same treatment afforded to higher-value imports, said FMC Chairman Richard Lidinsky.
The perception that carriers could differentiate among customers without FMC oversight dates back more than 40 years. Lidinsky said that when he first served on the commission in the 1970s, shippers felt that carriers, with their immunity from federal anti-trust laws, acted as they wished without fear of the commission interfering.
Shippers at the time thought the FMC was so pro-carrier that it should have been called the “Federal Carrier Commission,” Lidinsky said.
With the announcement of the President’s intention to double U.S. exports by 2015, the FMC felt it was time to tell carriers that “a new policy of equal treatment for all” was in effect, he said.
Container availability is a major concern of exporters, especially agricultural exporters in the heartland where few imported containers arrive. The FMC is working with carriers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop container availability systems.
Vessel capacity is an important issue for all exporters at certain times of the year. The FMC is urging carriers to provide sufficient vessel capacity for exporters in return for accurate cargo forecasts from the shippers.
“This vital capacity balance is not a science, but we must all work together to get the export job done,” Lidinsky said.
The commission chairman urged carriers and agricultural shippers to be part of the export recovery that has occurred since the global recession of 2008-09. The partnership should be one in which exporters accept reasonable rate increases and carriers in turn provide quality service to all shippers.
As exports continue to increase, albeit at a slower pace than projected earlier this year, Lidinksy called for a new round of carrier-shipper dialogue about service contracts that benefit both parties. To help achieve that goal, the FMC has established a dispute resolution office. He suggested that service contracts include a clause that the parties use this service, which is free of charge, to resolve disputes.
The commission is also seeking input from the trade on the wisdom of establishing container freight indices for agricultural exports such as grains, cotton, hay and frozen meat.
The goal of all the FMC initiatives is to foster an environment of “fair carrier compensation and service when and where needed to the shipper.”