GROUP SAYS IT WAS LEFT OUT OF DECISION ON SHIP BILL

GROUP SAYS IT WAS LEFT OUT OF DECISION ON SHIP BILL

A major freight consolidators group charges it has been excluded from compromise negotiations here aimed at breaking the deadlock on international container shipping deregulation legislation.

The New York-New Jersey Foreign Freight Forwarders and Brokers Association has asked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott not to move forward on a deregulation bill based on deal worked out among ''a select portion of the ocean transportation industry.''The consolidators association is ''on the outside looking in,'' said Carlos Rodriguez, the group's Washington attorney. The group said it has heard the Senate will act on the bill in 10 to 12 days.

Mr. Rodriguez complained that after three years of industrywide haggling over shipping deregulation, the legislation appears to be on a fast track, but consolidators can't even get a ''hard copy'' of the compromise deal. The compromise entices foreign-flag carriers and U.S. dockworker unions to drop their opposition.

That opposition, and the wavering position of the U.S. port industry, has stymied action on Mr. Lott's bill. It cleared the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in May 1997 but never reached a Senate floor vote. The House awaits Senate action.

The key element of the compromise plan is a change in the volume contracting section of the legislation. Under the change, rates and some other key terms in all volume discount contracts, known as service contracts, would be kept confidential.

The legislation had been structured to make contracts between a single shipper and a single carrier confidential, while keeping public pacts between shippers and groups of carriers that set rates collectively. The collective rate-setting groups are known as conferences.

Foreign carriers generally have taken the position that the two-tiered treatment on confidentiality would destroy the conference shipping system.

Consolidators want to make sure they don't suffer compensation losses as a result of the shift to confidential contracting.

Mr. Rodriguez described the compromise plan as coming from the Council of European and Japanese National Shipowners' Association. The deal is said to be supported also by U.S.-flag shipping lines and a major shippers group, the National Industrial Transportation League.

In its letter to Mr. Lott, the consolidator group said, ''You and Sen. (John) Breaux (D-La.) have asked our industry to work together in hope of producing a truly acceptable form of ocean shipping regulatory reform legislation.

''The recent labor-foreign flag discussions seem to have forgotten the words of the majority leader and his Democratic colleague.''