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Maritime regulators to investigate the impact of container shortages on US exporters

US maritime regulators investigate whether shipping companies are hampering US farmers’ ability to reach foreign markets by withholding empty containers needed to export goods.

The Federal Maritime Commission said in a statement on Friday that it would investigate the behavior of shipping companies in ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York. The surge in imports caused a bottleneck at the country’s largest export gateway, causing a surge in inbound and outbound supply. chain.

U.S. soybean, cotton, lumber, and hay exporters are rushing to unpack and empty containers coming in from Asia rather than loading them, so the country’s central distribution point They say they can’t find the boxes they need in US exports.

High demand from retailers and manufacturers to replenish depleted inventories during a pandemic has led to spikes in shipments from Asia, with sea carriers up to eight times more than low-priced U.S. agricultural suppliers pay. Can be ordered to export to Asia.

“The Commission is concerned that certain practices of sea carriers and their maritime terminals may amplify the negative impact of bottlenecks at these ports,” FMC said. “The potentially unreasonable practices of carriers and maritime terminals … pose a serious risk to the United States’ ability to handle trade growth.”

Since midsummer, when the pandemic blockade ended and imports began to skyrocket, shipments of empty containers from the United States surged. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach processed nearly 620,000 empty outbound containers in October. This is more than 35% more than a year ago and nearly 400,000 more boxes than processed from an adjacent port in February.

The shortage is due in part to the imbalance in the value of goods moving across the Pacific Ocean. For example, imports from China from the United States include large quantities of electronics, apparel, toys, and other manufactured products. US exports are heavily leaning towards bulky agricultural products, along with foods and beverages of low market value.

“We are this new focus of the FMC on its role in protecting the interests of the US economy through the active enforcement of the Marine Transportation Act,” the Agricultural Transport Union, a Washington-based industry association representing farmers, said in a statement. I admire you. ” “The damage to the economy and agricultural exporters and their forwarder truck drivers is imminently increasing, so we ask that enforcement begin promptly.”

FMC did not appoint a particular carrier in its statement.

A spokeswoman for AP Moeller-Maersk A / S said the company, the parent company of Maersk Line, the world’s largest container ship, “continues full cooperation with FMC and the industry on this important topic.” Said.

Write to Costas Paris (costas.paris@wsj.com)

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On November 21, 2020, we released a print version as “Regulators will investigate container shortages.”

Maritime regulators to investigate the impact of container shortages on US exporters

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