AGRICULTURAL SHIPPERS ADAMANT ON SHIP REFORM

AGRICULTURAL SHIPPERS ADAMANT ON SHIP REFORM

Farm product exporters say the inability of a presidential advisory

commission on maritime shipping law to take any definitive action on amending the 1984 Shipping Act is a blessing in disguise.

L. Patrick Hanemann, vice president of sales and marketing at Dole Citrus Co. in Ontario, Calif., said he feels the Advisory Commission on Conferences in Ocean Shipping is stacked in favor of carriers so shippers will receive better treatment by bringing their case directly to Congress."We'll see the process through," he told the International Trade Club of Southern California last week, indicating that shippers will compete on an equal footing with carriers as they bring their opposing views on how to amend the 1984 Act to Capitol Hill.

Unlike carriers, who are generally pleased with the act as it is, many shippers believe changes are needed.

Mr. Hanemann said such changes as eliminating the antitrust immunity of rate-setting shipping conferences and requiring that shippers be allowed to contract directly with individual carriers are essential to the competitiveness of U.S. agricultural exporters.

The 17-member advisory panel, composed of shipper, carrier, port and other industry representatives, has conducted public hearings and accumulated volumes of testimony on how the act might be amended.

The commission had been expected to come up with its own recommendations based on the testimony it received. However, it was unable to achieve a unified position and will produce only an informational report with opinions and recommendations from individual members.

"You won't get congressmen to read 16 different opinions on anything," Mr. Hanemann said.

Christopher L. Koch, chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, stepped into the fray recently by announcing that the FMC is prepared to make a number of changes to the act administratively, thus avoiding the lengthy amendment process.

Mr. Koch, who was interviewed during a visit to Southern California, said he thinks shippers will support some administrative changes the commission could make, such as allowing rate discount agreements between carriers and shippers, known as service service contracts, to be amended before the term of the contract ends.

"That to me is a major change," he said, adding that in a survey of shippers, it ranked only behind mandating independent action on service contracts as a priority for shippers.

Although shippers may in fact approve of such action by the commission, Jil Morley, manager of transportation at Blue Diamond Growers in Sacramento, Calif., said shippers cannot rely on the FMC to protect their interests in all matters.

"The FMC seems to exist solely for the benefit of carriers," she told the International Trade Club luncheon in Long Beach.

Ms. Morley added that there is only so much the FMC can do administratively to improve the 1984 Shipping Act.

"It can't get to the essential problems, such as antitrust immunity for conferences," she said. "Administrative action is not the answer."

Mr. Koch suggested that administrative action may, in fact, be the only way to make changes to the act at this time because Congress appears to be involved with other, more pressing matters.

"Will Congress do something this year? I doubt it," he said.

The FMC, however, is scheduled to take up the service contract issue this week, Mr. Koch said.