The U.S. Department of Agriculture is acting as a go-between with carriers and shippers to see if they can find a solution to container shortages for exported products.
Bruce Blanton, director of transportation services said the department’s Agricultural Marketing Service is in the early stages of a pilot program that could lead to an online message board where shippers can locate carriers’ empty containers.
Before a pilot can begin, Blanton said AMS is engaged in shuttle diplomacy, carrying ideas between carriers and shippers. The idea is to build trust on both sides before starting face-to-face discussions.
“It’s all voluntary. They don’t know each other. On the shippers’ side, they don’t even know who the other shippers are,” Blanton said. “We can go back and forth until we can get to something we think is a consensus.”
Blanton said that AMS’ mission is to facilitate the marketing of agricultural products. Ag shippers have been among the most vocal about recent shortages of containers in the Heartland which is impeding their export efforts. USDA’s effort is independent of the Federal Maritime Commission investigation of equipment supply and vessel capacity.
“We’re trying to provide transparency that’s agreeable to carriers and helpful to shippers, to provide a little more information in the market about where stuff was most recently,” Blanton said. “For a lot of people in the business, it’s one more piece of the puzzle that allows you to figure out how to set up new business.”
There’s no deadline for the pilot, but Blanton said that AMS should have results sooner, rather than later.
“I don’t think we need to impose artificial deadlines. It’s not going to take forever. They’ll come to some kind of consensus that’s workable, or they won’t,” Blanton said. “I think there’s optimism on all parts. There are carriers genuinely interested in seeing if they can be more transparent in ways that will be helpful to their customers. I think the FMC wants it, and I think the shippers want it.”
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