RADAR SCREEN

RADAR SCREEN

Details of the new bilateral maritime treaty between the U.S. and China may not become public until September. The Maritime Administration says there are still a number of "administrivia" details that have to be worked out behind the scenes before officials can discuss the pact. There is one small crack in the wall: Apparently the U.S. made concessions to China for its state-owned shipping companies. It's not a coincidence that Sinotrans and China Shipping petitioned the Federal Maritime Commission for exemptions to ease most of the tariff restrictions under the controlled-carrier act within two weeks after negotiators signed the treaty in San Francisco. But the U.S. also got something in return. Beyond that, officials are keeping mum.

It's a tough market for Viewlocity Inc., the Atlanta developer of web-based supply-chain technology. In its quarterly 10-Q form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the period ending June 30, the company reported it was in default on $9.5 million in loans and was at risk of being declared in default on a separate $1 million loan. Viewlocity blamed the sluggish economy and sales cycles that were longer than anticipated. The company is asking creditors either to extend the payment or restructure the loans. In the report, the company said "failure to substantially increase revenue and/or obtain additional capital or consummate other strategic alternatives will have a material adverse effect on our ability to meet our financial obligations and to continue to operate as a going concern." The company reported a net loss of $7.1 million for the preceding six months, compared with net income of $200,000 a year earlier.

East Coast ports continue to increase their share of imports from Asia, but one of the unwelcome results of the bonanza of cargo is that the containers are sitting on the docks for a week or longer, contributing to terminal congestion and dragging down the ports' throughput-per-acre productivity. West Coast ports, which tend to move more containers per acre, have less trouble with container dwell time because they move more cargo by rail from on-dock intermodal yards. Intermodal rail cargo tends to move from the harbor in less than two days, compared with seven days or longer for containers that move by truck. Truck-dependent East Coast ports attempt to reduce idle time for containers by charging terminals demurrage, or storage fees, for containers that stay on the terminals for more than five days. The terminals and shipping lines, bowing to pressure from large importers and retailers, are agreeing to service contracts in which they absorb the demurrage charges. This policy allows importers to store their cargoes for free at the ports, but the result is increased congestion as the peak season approaches.

East Coast ports continue to benefit from the fallout of last October's employer lockout of West Coast longshoremen. The 10-day port shutdown, and the three months of subsequent congestion, encouraged importers of Asian cargo to ship more containers through East Coast ports. In the first quarter of this year, East Coast ports handled 22.2 percent of U.S. imports from Asia, compared with 18.3 percent in the first quarter of 2002, according to Jeffrey Heller, director of international marketing at Norfolk Southern Intermodal. Norfolk Southern is benefiting from the East Coast's increased market share because the railroad offers westbound intermodal service. Heller said the hinterland for Asian cargo moving through East Coast ports extends to an imaginary line drawn from Chicago to New Orleans, although those states in the country's midsection are also served by mini-landbridge services from the West Coast.

The World Trade Organization released the first edition of a new publication aimed at helping the public better understand trade issues. The World Trade Report 2003 gives extensive background about the WTO's upcoming Doha Round. The 270-page report covers trade policy and international developments, including regional trade agreements and analysis of various trade options that are open to governments. The report is the brainchild of the WTO's Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, who said it makes a strong case for trade's role in spurring international development.

The U.S. economy is feeling the cost of implementing security measures following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Chelsea White, professor of transportation and logistics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told a security and logistics seminar in Savannah last week that the Department of Commerce estimates security costs produce a "drag" that reduces gross domestic product by 1.5 percent. Logistics experts are attempting to turn this burden into an advantage by using security measures, such as the advance filing of vessel manifest data or improved cargo-tracking software, as ways to make the supply chain more efficient for commercial purposes.

As of last week, stock of Neptune Orient Lines had risen more than 160 percent since the start of the year and last week reached a three-year high of 2.03 Singapore dollars ($1.67). The rise, including an 18 percent increase this month, is attributed in part to speculation about a possible merger of APL parent NOL with PSA Corp., which operates the Port of Singapore and other terminals. Singapore's Business Times said such a deal would have pluses as well as minuses. On the plus side: possible synergies between PSA, which has a substantial presence in Chinese ports, and NOL, which operates several terminals, mainly on the U.S. West Coast. On the minus side: NOL's balance sheet, which remains weaker than PSA's, even after the sale of its profitable tanker business for $445 million last month.

Louisiana shrimpers are struggling, and they're blaming imports from countries such as China and Thailand. The Louisiana Shrimp Association is trying to raise money to pay lawyers to file for sanctions that would limit imports, which accounted for 85 percent of the 1.4 billion pounds of shrimp consumed in the U.S. last year. Proving that imported shrimp are being dumped on the U.S. market at below cost could be difficult. Most of the growth in imports has come from aquaculture farms, where shrimp can be grown and harvested more cheaply than from boats trawling open waters.