Shipping carriers rejected U.S. agricultural export containers worth hundreds of millions of dollars during October and November, instead sending empty containers to China to be filled with more profitable Chinese exports.
The Federal Maritime Commission has received petitions from U.S. agricultural exporters warning that the delays in trade not only threaten profits but the reputation of the industry. The commission, in turn, launched an investigation and is reviewing the trade data out of key ports to see if carriers violated the Shipping Act, which makes it unlawful for carriers to “unreasonably refuse to deal or negotiate,” among other things.
In mid-October, carriers notified agricultural exporters that they would prioritize empty export containers over agricultural exports. They also said they would increase prices on U.S. agricultural exports if the commodities were transported.
Three in four containers from the U.S. to Asia are “going back empty,” according to logistics executive Mark Yeager. “The reason for this is the Chinese are being so aggressive about trying to get empty containers back … that it’s hard to get a container for U.S. exporters.”
“American farmers and agricultural exporters should not have to search for containers to get their goods to market,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. “We need a cohesive U.S. export policy that addresses a range of issues, including container accessibility for our agricultural markets throughout the country.”