“The Commission is concerned that certain practices of ocean carriers and their marine terminals may be amplifying the negative effect of bottlenecks at these ports,” the FMC said. “The potentially unreasonable practices of carriers and marine terminals…present a serious risk to the ability of the United States to handle trade growth.”
The transport of empty containers from the U.S. has soared since midsummer, when pandemic-driven lockdowns ended and imports started surging. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handled nearly 620,000 empty outbound containers in October, over 35% more than they saw a year ago and nearly 400,000 more boxes than they carried out from the neighboring ports in February.
The shortage is partly due to imbalance in the value of the goods moving across the Pacific. U.S. imports from China, for instance, include big volumes of electronics, apparel, toys and other manufactured goods. U.S. exports lean heavily toward bulky agricultural goods, along with food and beverages, which have a lower market value.
“We applaud this renewed focus by the FMC on its role to protect the interests of the U.S. economy, through vigorous enforcement of the Shipping Act,” the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, a Washington-based trade body representing farmers, said in a statement. “We ask that the enforcement begin promptly, as the injury to the economy and to agricultural exporters and their forwarders, truckers, is immediate and increasing.”
The FMC didn’t name specific carriers in its statement.
A spokeswoman for A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S said the company, the parent of Maersk Line, the world’s largest container carrier by capacity, was “continuing our full cooperation with the FMC and the industry on this important topic.”