FMC may rule on “talking agreements” soon
December 06, 2010 - LM Editorial
The future of two of the few remaining ocean carrier cartels may be determined when the Federal Maritime Commission meets this week.
High on the agenda for the December 8 session is the FMC’s investigation of Transpacific Stabilization Agreement (TSA) and the Westbound Transpacific Stabilization Agreement (WTSA). This pair of so-called “talking agreements” are in the eyes of many shippers, vestiges of a bygone era when ocean shipping was virtually unregulated.
“Shippers expressed the opinion that the ocean carriers continued to withhold vessel capacity from the market in a collective effort to raise prices by leveraging access to scarce capacity and equipment, said FMC commissioner Rebecca F. Dye last month. Speaking at the Northeast Cargo Symposium, she also noted that shippers reported that their service contracts did not protect them from numerous rate and surcharge increases.
“Their service contracts also did not provide the volume forecasting specificity necessary to assure them of vessel space and equipment,” said Dye.
Shortly before stepping down as chairman of the National Industrial Transportation League’s ocean committee, Michael Berzon told LM that Carriers can raise rates in lockstep now, without any concern that such behavior represents a violation of anti-trust laws.”
That may be in question, however, once the FMC concludes its hearing.
Last June, the FMC adopted the recommendations of Dye’s interim report, and took action in several areas to provide positive changes in U.S. ocean transportation. The Commission also voted to increase oversight of the TSA and WTSA by requiring verbatim transcripts of certain Agreement meetings.
For its part, TSA Executive Administrator Brian Conrad said carriers have experienced steadily rising costs in the areas of labor, container-handling, inland transportation and equipment purchasing and leasing.
Conrad also noted that vessel capacity in the trans-Pacific increased 18.6 percent, with 15 new and restored services, including three new operators on the Pacific.