FMC: Trans-Pacific Trade is Returning to Normal

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Published Mar 26, 2020 2:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

The ocean freight sector was hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak's impact on Chinese manufacturing and logistics, and ocean carriers have been forced to blank sailings to and from China and the United States. The Federal Maritime Commission reports that based on its consultations with ocean carriers, cargo levels and services on the trans-Pacific trades are now returning to pre-outbreak levels.

However, the FMC expects that the outbreak's impact in U.S. West Coast ports will linger over the next few weeks while vessels are still in transit, and there may still be logistical challenges in processing cargoes on the U.S. side. In addition, refrigerated exports out of the United States are currently hampered by a shortage of reefer containers, which may take somewhat longer to rectify. 

“I was heartened to hear that shipping lines have indicated that there is cargo for pickup and that trucking and port operations have substantially resumed in China. I remain concerned that there will continue to be negative economic impacts as a result of delays, as shipments transit the Pacific from China. I would hope that the industry resists the temptation to take actions to price gouge or otherwise unfairly leverage their position," said Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl W. Bentzel in a statement. "Our ability to recover from this economic disruption through the resumption of maritime commerce underscores the criticality and importance of our maritime trade . . . I believe we all owe a debt of gratitude to the ocean carriers and their crews, the longshoremen who continue to process vital supplies, the truckers and railroad laborers who deliver cargo throughout the nation. We have to make sure that our policies continue to allow these vital functions to continue.”

Commissioner Bentzel also called on the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to clarify that the U.S. freight transportation industry is an "essential critical infrastructure industry." 

"Longshoremen, trucking, railroad employees, and other affiliated organizations such as truck and rest stop operators, should be exempted from restrictions that restrict their abilities to function," Bentzel wrote. "This action should help avoid issues such as the provision of priority testing for transportation employees, and continuation of services at truck and rest stops to allow the trucking industry to operate with limited interruption."