RADAR SCREEN

RADAR SCREEN

Ocean carriers' customer service has long been an oxymoron among some importers and customs brokers. The National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America will be sending a questionnaire to its members to measure it. Among other things, brokers complain that carriers have eliminated the longstanding policy of extending free time to import containers that Customs orders to an examination station. The end of the free time has forced importers to pay demurrage charges. Brokers also note that carriers have regionalized customer service centers, or relocated them to points outside the U.S. That has led to additional waiting times on the phone, and delays in getting cargo released.

Look for the Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division to publish new regulations on the re-export of rough-cut diamonds. Exporters must file diamond exports through the Automated Export System (AES), and also must file a paper "Kimberly Certificate," which attests that the gems are not "conflict diamonds" that have been sold to support internal warfare in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone or Sri Lanka. The certificate must include the Internal Transaction Number that AES assigns automatically. The new rules will take effect when they are published in the Federal Register within the next two weeks.

Hau Lee, a professor at Stanford University's graduate school of business, says preliminary findings indicate that tighter security could save $400 to $500 for a container of high-tech cargo shipped from Malaysia to Seattle via Singapore. The numbers were based on a test shipment under the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection's Safe and Secure Tradelanes project. The savings would be distributed among various supply-chain partners, such as port operators and carriers, but the bulk of the savings would go to the shipper, Lee said. The implications of this preliminary study go to the core of the debate over whether private industry or the government should foot the bill for enhanced security. "Given that the benefits accrue more to the shipper, the government may be less willing to subsidize it," Lee said. "It might show that the government isn't the one we should go to for infrastructure improvements, because they do not get most of the benefit. The government may have to create incentives so it doesn't have to pay for security directly."

The National Resources Defense Council has told the Port of Los Angeles it will take legal action if the port does not quickly implement a $50 million settlement reached six months ago involving the new China Shipping Container Line terminal. The environmental group charged that by now the port should have placed orders for alternative-fuel yard equipment, as required by the settlement. The port responded that the terminal operator, Marine Terminals Corp., has ordered the yard tractors and they should be delivered by early 2004. The NRDC also charged that the port hasn't moved quickly enough to secure low-profile cranes for the terminal. The port is talking with Chinese crane manufacturer ZPMC, but there are still seismic issues to be resolved with the newly designed cranes. The port also missed a deadline for submitting a revised traffic study on the new terminal. The port has made progress, though, on preparing the facility for ships to operate from shoreside electrical power while at berth. Although the terminal was basically completed last December, China Shipping has not moved in. A port spokeswoman said the port continues to talk with China Shipping and expects the line to occupy the terminal.

Qantas Airways is seeking a new top executive for its cargo division following the mid-September departure of Peter Frampton, who had held the post for 10 years. Frampton, a former chairman of the International Air Transport Association's Cargo Committee, chose not to renew his contract with the Australian carrier after their five-year agreement expired.

Air cargo carriers serving Newark Liberty International Airport should be able to resume carrying full payloads this week on long-haul flights. Carriers had to reduce their payloads while the main runway at the New Jersey airport was being repaved.

Trade issues that Congress may address this year include repeal of the Extra-territorial Income Exclusion Act, which provides billions of dollars a year in tax breaks to U.S. exporters. The World Trade Organization has declared the ETI act an illegal export subsidy. The European Union has said that if the tax break isn't repealed, it will impose duties as high as 100 percent on $4 billion a year of U.S. exports. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has proposed replacing ETI with a variety of tax breaks, including accelerated depreciation allowances and expanded research and development credits for small firms and tax relief for U.S. firms operating abroad. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the committee's ranking Democrat, proposed cutting taxes by 10 percent for U.S. firms operating exclusively in the United States, with smaller cuts for firms operating in both the U.S. and abroad.

The breakdown of the World Trade Organization ministerial talks in Cancun is a setback for trade negotiators' attempts to deal with issues such as intellectual-property rights and fighting global corruption. The WTO reports that trade ministers can't agree whether to launch negotiations on the so-called Singapore issues - so named because they first surfaced during a Singapore trade conference. Developing countries in general consider these issues to be in the interest of richer countries and aren't as eager to pursue them. The resistance will make it tougher for governments to achieve agreement - and enforcement - of global trade rules for issues that reach beyond traditional trade barriers, such as tariffs.

Aviation negotiators for the U.S. and China will hold informal talks in Beijing on Nov. 19, 20 and, if necessary, Nov. 21. U.S. officials hope these will be followed by formal talks, in which the U.S. would seek rights for its carriers to offer additional weekly flights, additional flying rights for passenger and all-cargo carriers, and improvements to code-sharing rights, including third-country code-sharing. Cargo carriers such as FedEx and United Parcel Service are especially eager to gain expanded rights to the booming China market. FedEx currently operates 11 flights a week between the U.S. and China, while UPS has six.