U.S. DOT and USDA Urge Lines to Carry Ag Exports or Face FMC Review

US urges carriers to improve shipments of agricutural exports
Dropped service at the Port of Oakland they contend hurt agricultural exports (Port of Oakland file photo)

Published Dec 20, 2021 1:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Transportation and Agriculture departments have written to all the major container shipping companies servicing the U.S. West Coast ports urging the companies to improve service in support of the agricultural industry. A joint letter from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack cites a range of complaints from the ag commodities associations along with the carriers not taking advantage of available port capacity saying the issues may require further regulatory review.

“The poor service and refusal to serve customers when the empty containers are clearly available is unacceptable and, if not resolved quickly, may require further examination and action by the Federal Maritime Commission,” the secretaries write in their joint letter. “In the spirit of fully utilizing our current infrastructure, we’re writing to emphasize the critical nature of service to underutilized West Coast ports to ensure American agricultural exports can be freely transported overseas.”

The letter, which is addressed to a broad range of carriers including Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, ONE, Evergreen, COSCO, and others, calls on the carriers to help mitigate disruptions to the agricultural shippers of U.S. exports and supply chain disruptions created by the pandemic. The letter specifically cites fewer containers being made available for U.S. agricultural commodities as the carriers rush to export empties to Asian shippers. The letter contends, “This imbalance is not sustainable and contributes to the logjam of empty containers clogging ports.”

Other issues that they are highlighting include repeatedly changing return dates and charging unfair fees. “Shippers of U.S. grown agricultural commodities and goods have seen reduced service,” they write to the carriers saying it is, “exemplified by many ocean carriers suspending service to the Port of Oakland. DOT and USDA are calling on the carriers to more fully utilize available terminal capacity on the West Coast.”

Describing the problems caused by skipping the Port of Oakland which is near many agricultural areas, the letter says agricultural exporters were forced to truck their harvest to the already heavily congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. They called for the restoration of service to Oakland as well as using the available dock space at other ports such as Portland, saying it would allow the export of U.S. goods and help address the congestion in the Southern California ports.

“It is critical that we restore reciprocal treatment of imports and exports that is inherent in trade,” the secretaries said to the major carriers while encouraging further engagement with the efforts of the Biden administration to relieve the supply chain disruptions.