Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Richard Lidinsky said the FMC has been asked by West Coast members of the U.S. Congress to study the movement of cargo via Prince Rupert, British Colombia, to determine whether American ports are unfairly disadvantaged.
“It is a very complicated issue, involving the harbor maintenance tax, weaker container inspections, NAFTA and possible subsidy of cargo railroads to Canada, but this issue will have to be studied, so stay tuned,” he said.
Prince Rupert has developed into an efficient competitor for trans-Pacific intermodal shipments that are transferred directly from ship to rail for delivery to the U.S. Midwest.
Lidinsky spoke at the International Longshoremen’s Association’s quadrennial convention in Hollywood, Fla. He was introduced by ILA President Richard Hughes Jr., a lifelong Baltimore resident, as “Catfish,” which Hughes said is a local nickname for natives of east Baltimore, where Lidinsky is from.
The FMC chairman said that when he was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, his charge included protecting importers, exporters and consumers and helping create jobs. “In every decision we make, my first concern is for jobs, specifically American jobs,” he said.
Lidinsky noted that the percentage of foreign trade carried by U.S.-flag ships declined from 19 percent in 1961, when the FMC was created, to 4.2 percent last year, a figure he called “shocking.”
He said China’s Port of Shanghai handled 29 million 20-foot-equivalent units of containers last year while “all of the ILA ports together, Atlantic and Gulf, had just 20 million.”
He cited predictions forecasting much of growth following the 2014 opening of wider Panama Canal locks may be via transshipment from the Caribbean and Latin America.
“We must keep a very close eye on this so that the new canal can be a home run and not a ground-rule double,” Lidinksy said.