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Transportation and Agriculture Departments Urge End to Reduced and Poor Service for U.S. Grown Agricultural Commodities

The Secretaries Urge Expansion of Operations at Underutilized West Coast Ports to Alleviate Supply Chain Congestion

Washington, Dec. 17, 2021 – Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urged the world’s leading ocean carriers to help mitigate disruptions to agricultural shippers of U.S. exports and relieve supply chain disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic by restoring reciprocal treatment of imports and exports and improving service. Ocean carriers have made fewer containers available for U.S. agricultural commodities, repeatedly changed return dates and charged unfair fees as the ocean carriers short-circuited the usual pathways and rushed containers back to be exported empty. The poor service and refusal to serve customers is exemplified by many ocean carriers suspending service to the Port of Oakland. DOT and USDA are calling on the carriers to more fully utilize available terminal capacity on the West Coast. The Port of Oakland, Port of Portland, and other West Coast ports have excess capacity to alleviate supply chain congestion. However, the suspension of service by ocean carriers at the Port of Oakland earlier this year has required agricultural exporters to truck their harvests to the already heavily congested Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Restoration of service would not only ease the congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Southern California but would allow the prompt export of American goods overseas and ease the strain on the supply of long-haul truckers necessary to transport goods from Northern California to Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The letter was sent to Ed Aldridge, President, CMA CGM America LLC; Tenny Hsieh, President, Wan Hai Lines America; Feng Bo, President, COSCO North America; Kee Hoon Park, CEO, SM Line; Benjamin Tsai, President, Evergreen Shipping Agency; Uffe Ostergaard, President, Hapag-Lloyd AG North America; Jeremy Nixon, President, Ocean Network Express; George Goldman, President, Zim American Integrated Shipping Services; Paul Devine, President, OOCL (USA) Inc.; Doug Morgante, Vice President, Maersk Inc.; Fabio Santucci, President and CEO, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company USA; Cheng-Mount Cheng, Chairman and CEO, Yang Ming Marine Transport Company.

The full letter can be read below.

December 16, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture continue to work with industry partners throughout the supply chain to relieve the disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic. This unprecedented disruption to the flow of goods worldwide has required both government and industry to pull every lever and maximize the use of our existing infrastructure while simultaneously working to ensure that our supply chain is more resilient to future disruptions.

In the spirit of fully utilizing our current infrastructure, we’re writing to emphasize the critical nature of service to underutilized West Coast ports to ensure American agricultural exports can be freely transported overseas.

The Port of Oakland, Port of Portland, and other West Coast ports have excess capacity to alleviate supply chain congestion. Particularly, the suspension of service by ocean carriers at the Port of Oakland earlier this year has required agricultural exporters to truck their harvests to the already heavily congested Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While ships must dwell for several days in San Pedro Bay to berth at Southern California ports, other West Coast ports are less congested and berths more readily available. Restoration of service would not only ease the congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Southern California but would allow the prompt export of American goods overseas and ease the strain on the supply of long-haul truckers necessary to transport goods from Northern California to Los Angeles and Long Beach.

It is also critical that we restore reciprocal treatment of imports and exports that is inherent in trade. Shippers of U.S. grown agricultural commodities and goods have seen reduced service, everchanging return dates, and unfair fees as containers have short-circuited the usual pathways and been rushed to be exported empty. This imbalance is not sustainable and contributes to the logjam of empty containers clogging ports. The poor service and refusal to serve customers when the empty containers are clearly available is unacceptable and, if not resolved quickly, may require further examination and action by the Federal Maritime Commission.

We thank you for your engagement with the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to relieve the supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19 and strongly encourage you to help agricultural shippers of U.S. exports by restoring services to the Port of Oakland and more fully utilizing available terminal capacity on the West Coast.

Sincerely,

Pete Buttigieg                               Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Transportation          Secretary of Agriculture

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