Most U.S. exporters who ship to Asia can expect to pay a $25 documentation fee for each bill of lading beginning Friday.
The Westbound Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, which represents 13 ocean carriers, announced earlier this summer that its members intended to initiate the fee on Sept. 1 to offset their increasing costs for preparing and processing export documents.The WTSA said today that the voluntary guideline remains in effect. Although implementation of the fee is voluntary, most carriers intend to charge it. The carriers' cost of processing complex export documentation continues to increase, as does the cost of hiring, training and retaining documentation staff, the WTSA said in a press release.
WTSA members agree.
'It's an offset fee,' said Anne Kappel, director of marketing at Maersk Sealand. 'Frankly, I'm surprised it has taken this long.'
Agricultural exporters oppose the fee, especially because they often find that the bills of lading and other documents that carriers process are late or contain inexcusable errors, said Peter Friedmann, an attorney in Washington who serves as general counsel to the Agriculture Ocean Shipping Coalition.
'To charge for a service is one thing, but to charge for a service that isn't being provided is another thing,' Friedmann said.
Some shippers have asked their carriers for relief, but to no avail.
'When our carrier presented it to us, we registered an objection and asked for a waiver,' said Tom O'Rourke, president of the National Unaffiliated Shippers Association. 'They said they were addressing their bottom-line costs.'
Carriers note that documentation fees exist in other trade lanes, such as the eastbound Pacific, U.S.-to-Europe and U.S.-to-Latin America. Shippers, however, respond that the fees are not universal.
'I've seen it to Central and South America, and in some cases to Europe, but not all lines charge it,' said Al Mazzarella, president of West Coast Forwarding in Los Angeles.
Shippers also note the irony of carriers moving their documentation offices to Dallas; Boise, Idaho; and other inland locations in order to save money, and then notifying customers that they will start charging a document processing fee.
'Their costs should go down because they've centralized everything in Boise,' said Jeff Coppersmith, vice president and manager of ocean exports at L.E. Coppersmith in Los Angeles.