A National Port Information System that was recommended back in 2017 is now in the spotlight again. FMC Commissioner Rebecca F. Dye, along with Chairman Daniel B. Maffei, testified last month before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in Congress. She noted that the U.S. international ocean freight delivery system is unprepared to deal with growing volumes of cargo flowing through the major ports. "If we don’t change, we can’t grow. In 2017, our FMC Supply Chain Innovation Teams recommended a National Port Information System to provide end-to-end visibility in our international ocean freight delivery system. Now is the time to move forward with this recommendation, harmonize our supply chain, leap over existing problems, and boost American competitiveness and our economy," Commissioner Dye said. Chairman Maffei noted that the demand for imports will likely not diminish until 2022. "But the supply of space on ships has not increased enough to keep pace even though virtually every usable ship is in service." Chairman Maffei noted that because of the global nature of trade, the challenges throughout the supply chain, and the vast increase in demand for ocean transportation, the Federal government is limited in ways to help. "We can put in measures to improve the overall capacity of the system – increase the supply in the supply-demand chart – through infrastructure improvements and more data & information sharing. Shippers need more information than they currently get and providing it to them would greatly improve efficiency," he said. Chairman Maffei acknowledged that these are not immediate solutions. In the meantime, he said, the FMC will continue to help exporters and other U.S. shippers navigate the system and file complaints; will communicate with various stakeholders in the supply chain to help them work together to make the system more efficient and reliable; will keep in touch with other Federal agencies and Congress and stay open-minded to finding new ways of making the situation better; and will work hard to make sure nobody makes a profit from this current crisis in a way that violates the Shipping Act.
More Investigations Seen
Commissioner Dye identified three major obstacles to resolving major port congestion: the problems occur in every cargo “surge” or “peak season”; no supply chain actor alone, not ocean carriers or ports, can develop a solution without a coordinated approach; and the lack of mutual commitment between parties to freight delivery agreements keeps parties from achieving enforceable agreements. According to Commissioner Dye, FMC's Bureau of Enforcement staff are actively investigating cases of potential unreasonable demurrage and detention charges involving the most common situation affecting exporters, earliest return date. More investigations will follow, perhaps involving other potentially unreasonable practices.