Congressional Authorization of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and Amendments to the Shipping Act

Posted by John Crowley on July 10, 2017 10:15 AM EDT

NAWE comments on pending authorizing legislation for the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).  NAWE objects to additional FMC authority to seek undefined and potentially invasive reports invoked when members form Agreements to cooperate with other members of the supply chain on such things as port productivity.

Both Houses of Congress have taken on the task of re-authorizing the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).  Such action will set authorized funding levels (as opposed to appropriated funds).  In addition to funding, the policy substance in the Congressional action was prompted in part by the FMC’s desire to strengthen its authority and in part by certain members of the maritime supply chain’s desire to address concerns over FMC action or lack of action in responding to recent events such as the formation of “Alliances.”   

Absent from the discussion appears to be a significant review of or adjustment to the purpose of the FMC and Shipping Act which serves as the foundation for steps the FMC desires or is faced with taking.  Many of todays considerations are significant within the business climate.  The Act characterizes the FMC role as facilitating global maritime commerce among disparate modes and parties.  The FMC does this while being an informed monitor of global maritime competition issues and while providing a firm hand on the tiller of Agreements to cooperate among competitive parties.  The Act assigns certain rights and privileges to the various modal parties; among the parties - shippers, carriers, and marine terminal operators.  The strengths, roles and functions of governmental and private sector parties in global maritime transportation continue to evolve, though the Congress’ policy guidance and the Commission’s operating assumptions do not reflect consideration of any change.

The FMC has sought authority to require additional reports from the Marine Terminal Operators (MTO).  While it appears this requirement is consistent with requirements for others who form Agreements under the Shipping Act, MTOs are not granted anywhere near the same rights and benefits as other beneficiaries.  NAWE and its members seek the FMC authority, if granted, be limited to appropriate substance, cost and time commensurate with a prospective Agreement’s objective and benefits and not to a non-equivalent standard.

Other measures are being considered by Congress to address concerns with perceptions of unfair competition within the supply chain.  Each of these concerns, founded in commercial realities, have been considered by NAWE members who respond individually to prospective measures across the spectrum of support or non-support.  Therefore, NAWE does not take a specific position on these measures.

The Shipping Act and the FMC have provided valuable freedom for the global maritime market place to innovate within a unique and competitive environment.  See for instance the various efforts at port productivity.  As the market place evolves, so too may the policy guidance of Congress and the guiding principles used by the FMC, but care should be exercised that tomorrow’s guidance and principles be thoughtful and encourage continued growth and value for the market place.

(Does anyone else find it curious that proposed legislation both supports a tighter hand on marine terminal operators and greater protection for the marine terminal operator?)  



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