War of words continues over ILA contract

When the International Longshoremen's Association's South Atlantic and Gulf District held its convention last week at Lake Tahoe, Nev., ILA members were still arguing the merits of the union's new six-year contract. Dissidents have criticized the contract and challenged its ratification on grounds of voting irregularities. One dissident, Leonard Riley, a rank-and-file member from Charleston - and brother of Local 1422 President Kenneth Riley - said he didn't take the floor at the convention to dispute union officials' praise of the contract. Leonard Riley said he knew his side was outnumbered by ILA officials at the convention who supported the agreement. "I would have been received very badly," he said. ILA President John Bowers told the convention that he is "personally saddened and disappointed" by the continued division in the union, but he will not criticize those who have the courage to speak openly about the contract in the appropriate ILA forums. Bowers said, though, that he does condemn those dissidents who remained silent in the contract negotiations and then went public with their criticism. Clyde Fitzgerald, president of the South Atlantic and Gulf District, predicted that dissidents will eventually accept the contract as a good one for the union.

CAFTA in limbo

Republican congressional leaders recently told retail executives that Congress may ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement in a lame-duck session after the November elections. That puts both parties in agreement on something. Two weeks ago Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Congress would not vote on CAFTA "any time soon." Whenever Congress considers it, Democrats will continue to fight for tougher environmental and labor standards. The U.S. signed CAFTA last May with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Dominican Republic also is expected to join.

Kerry's maritime resume is thin

John Kerry's campaign photo album may show a youthful Kerry sailing off Cape Cod with John F. Kennedy, but if the Democratic candidate has taken a stand on maritime policy, it's not very memorable. One union official said he read a "generic statement of support" for the U.S. maritime industry, but couldn't recall where he saw it. Kerry's online campaign material says he favors development of standards and technology to make container shipping transparent, and improved security at loading facilities. Kerry was a member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation that pushed through changes in the Title XI loan-guarantee program to secure loans to revive a Quincy, Mass., shipyard. The venture declared bankruptcy in 2000, and Title XI took a $62.1 million loss, although the Maritime Administration later recovered $24.4 million. Kerry was in powerful company in promoting the Quincy project. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., President Clinton, and Gov. William Weld, Kerry's Republican challenger for the Senate in 1996, all threw their weight to the proposal.

Philippines urged to change cabotage laws

A government official in the Philippines is proposing a revision in the country's cabotage laws to let foreign shipping companies compete in the domestic trades on an equal footing with Filipino companies. The proposal, strongly supported by foreign business groups in the Philippines, is being seriously considered because it now costs as much to ship from Davao to Manila as from Manila to Europe. Jesus Dureza, presidential assistant for the Philippine island of Mindanao, is proposing the change. Dureza, who also chairs the Mindanao Economic and Development Council, said allowing foreign vessels to enter domestic shipping operations would increase competition and enhance the deregulation of the local maritime industry that was implemented in 1994.

Australian rate-setting agreement continues

Container lines transporting cargo from China to Australia will continue to be able to legally fix freight rates among themselves for the time being. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruled that there are insufficient grounds to remove the legal exemption that allows the 16 shipping lines in the Australia-Asia Discussion Agreement to engage jointly to set rates. After a nine-month investigation, commission Chairman Graeme Samuel said there was a "remarkably high threshold" required for evidence to overturn the exemption. A commission position paper had argued for the partial revocation of the Australia-Asia Discussion agreement, which is authorized under Australia's Trade Practices Act. The commission probe followed complaints from Australian importers who said containerized-cargo rates from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan doubled in less than three months to as much as $1,600 per container and peak-season surcharges rose. The commission found that demand for Asian manufactured goods in Australia rose 25 percent during 2003 but that the discussion agreement affected shipping lines' willingness to offer extra capacity and introduce new ships on the route to ease demand.

House votes to restrict Ex-Im Bank loans

Officials at the U.S. Export-Import Bank are concerned that a House-passed amendment to the foreign-operations appropriations bill will cost U.S. jobs. The amendment would prohibit the Ex-Im Bank from approving direct loans or loan guarantees to former American companies that have moved their headquarters outside the U.S. to avoid taxes. The Ex-Im Bank's chief operating officer, Peter Saba, said four companies cited by the amendment's sponsor, Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., employ more than 53,000 U.S.-based workers. The companies are Ingersoll-Rand, Noble Drilling Corp., Weatherford International and Nabors Industries. Saba said that if the Sanders amendment passes, "The foreign buyers will simply buy from other suppliers who do not make their product in the United States. This will result in the loss of high-paying American jobs." Sanders said companies that move their headquarters to tax havens should not get "U.S. taxpayer subsidies." The amendment was adopted 270-132.

Export award cites an unusual product

Export-achievement certificates from the Commerce Department usually go to companies and organizations that have used the department's U.S. Commercial Service to make their first export sale or to open new foreign markets. But among winners this year was Clark Community College in Vancouver, Wash. What is unusual about the award is the "product" - student enrollment. Clark Community College in Vancouver contacted the commercial service to help address the sharp drop in registration of foreign students. With the help of the Portland, Ore., U.S. export Assistance Center, the school revised its marketing and outreach strategy to Korea and Japan, generating new interest in the school from students in those and other Asian countries. Foreign students pay out-of-state tuition. The U.S. Commercial Service is a Commerce Department agency that helps small and midsize U.S. businesses sell their products and services globally.