More than 30 shipper groups pledged their support to Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., if he moves forward with legislation to abolish antitrust immunity for ocean carriers.
Congress must "take steps to insure that an environment exists so that contracts are honored and that ocean exports and imports can move at rates that are determined solely by competitive market conditions," the groups told Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in a letter sent Tuesday.
The groups included Agriculture Transportation Coalition, the National Retail Federation, the National Industrial Transportation League and the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
Last June Oberstar told an NITL forum he would propose legislation to abolish carriers' antitrust immunity. He has filed no bill yet, but shippers anticipate legislation soon.
The letter said the Federal Maritime Commission's investigation into capacity and equipment shortages gave evidence that carriers rolled cargo, demanded premiums for loading cargo and committed other abuses. Carriers have denied the allegations, saying they reduced capacity in response to the economic recession.
The letter said carriers' ability to discuss rate guidelines has resulted in "identical or very similar rates and terms for carriage and uniformly applied surcharges."
Carriers still should be able to cooperate to provide shippers with efficient service, but Congress should not allow carriers to engage in price-fixing, cargo allocation, or agreements to restrict capacity, the letter said.
Maritime labor groups responded with a letter of their own asking Congress to go slow with changes to the Ocean Shipping Reform Act that could affect carrier antitrust immunity.
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