Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Daniel B. Maffei addressed the annual Government Affairs Conference of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc., discussing conditions in the trade, Commission actions and initiatives in response to events of the past year, and possible priorities for the agency moving forward.
The remarks were delivered in person on September 20, in Washington, DC.
Demand for containerized ocean transportation services globally, but particularly serving the United States, has led to more than one-year of historic volumes of freight entering the American supply chain. While freight is moving from origin to destination at record rates, the supply chain has been stressed to accommodate the sheer number of containers in transit. Congestion, inefficiencies in the system, and insufficient assets across the system have had an operational impact contributing to higher freight rates.
Chairman Maffei highlighted that the Commission has undertaken several initiatives to ensure that the marketplace is free of anticompetitive behavior including increasing reporting requirements on the three carrier alliances, consulting with other competition regimes, engaging senior carrier executives directly, and adding a formal investigatory function to Fact Finding 29. He also reported on the recently launched Vessel-Operating Common Carrier Audit Program, established at his direction, which is assessing the nine largest ocean carriers by market share in the U.S. for compliance with the agency’s rule on detention and demurrage.
“We are taking many steps to assure reasonable practices, including beefing up our enforcement and consumer affairs bureaus and looking at ways to address disincentives that have kept many shippers and NVOCCs from filing cases of their own against carriers or large terminal operators,” said Chairman Maffei.
One area of particular interest to Chairman Maffei is devoting more attention and resources to the practice of charging fees and surcharges beyond the work the FMC has done on detention and demurrage. The Chairman cited an enforcement investigation launched by the Commission in August examining certain announced or implemented congestion surcharges as an example of the sort increased scrutiny of fees that might need to be more frequently initiated.
“Many of the fees shippers are being charged seem unfair. Surcharges are justified by special circumstances that affect a particular port and they should be short in duration. Closer examination of carriers’ justifications for additional fees broadly is likely warranted. We should stop any instance where these add-on fees may not fully comply with the law or regulation,” said Chairman Maffei.
Throughout his remarks, Chairman Maffei underscored the importance of communication between industry and the Commission.
“The Federal Maritime Commission has a longstanding and strong working relationship with NCBFAA. Custom brokers, freight forwarders and other ocean transportation intermediaries play a vital role in keeping cargo moving. I am always appreciative of opportunities to engage with NCBFAA and its members. Robust communications between our two organizations serves both our interests and benefits the shared goal of the efficient movement of ocean freight.”