Statement by Commissioner Bentzel on Common Carriage Requirements for U.S. Exports
I remain troubled about the expanding imbalance of cargoes imported into the United States versus those exported.
On December 16, 2020, then Commissioner and now Chairman Daniel B. Maffei and I sent a letter to the President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Shipping Council expressing the necessity for ocean carriers serving the United States to recognize their common carriage service requirements to accept U.S. exports.
The common carriage obligations of U.S. transportation providers have been in place since the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. Those existing requirements were carried into international ocean transportation through the Shipping Act of 1916. The obligations remain to this day.
The Shipping Act of 1984 contains provisions that ensure common carriage and protect exporters from discrimination. 46 U.S.C. 41104(a)(10). Common carriers may not “unreasonably refuse to deal or negotiate.”
The most recently available information shows the greatest difference in balance of payments between imported and exported goods since 2008. Though the maritime industry is successfully carrying record volumes of import cargoes, there are mounting indications that service to the import trade might have come at the exclusion of U.S. exporters.
Earlier this month, I visited the Port of Long Beach to assess certain entrants in the U.S. ocean carrier trade lanes. I am concerned these carriers are providing only import service and choosing to transport empty ocean containers back to China instead of export shipments.
Accordingly, my observations concerning “one-way” service remain and I continue to express concerns that these carriers could be behaving in a manner that violates common carriage protections of the law. The Commission staff should continue to review specific information related to service of new entrants with attention to the volume of containers imported, exported, and empty returns on each visit into the United States. I expect this information will be valuable to my colleagues and I as we continue to consider the obligations of ocean carriers under common carriage provisions, as well as the protections the law affords U.S. exporters.
Carl W. Bentzel is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.