US Maritime Commission outlines scope of investigation into west coast ports

The US Federal Maritime Commission has released information on the scope of their investigation.

The US Federal Maritime Commission has released information on the scope of their investigation into whether or not the Port of Prince Rupert and other Canadian ports have an unfair advantage over those on the US west coast.

The commission’s investigation will centre mostly around  the Harbour Maintenance Tax; a tax of charged to every carrier that uses a US port based on 0.125 per cent of whatever the cargo is worth. To put that in perspective, the Prince Rupert Northern View asked the Port of Seattle to calculate what the tax costs per container. The American port said that the average price is $80 per container, but it can cost as low as $40 or as high as $250 depending on what’s inside.

Much of the investigation will look into whether or not the maintenance tax is what is causing carriers to start switching to ports that don’t charge it, like Prince Rupert, only to send their goods to American markets by train instead. The investigation was sparked when a group of Congress

members from west coast states wrote the Commission with concerns that the tax was hurting American competitiveness by driving away shipping companies to Canadian ports.

But, if the lack of a maintenance tax is not what is attracting shipping companies to Prince Rupert – which is what the Prince Rupert Port Authority maintains – the Maritime Commission  wants to hear alternative explanations backed up with hard evidence.

The commission has published a list of the different kinds of information they want to hear from the public and industry testimony.

They want to hear what exactly the difference is in how ports like Prince Rupert operate when compared to American ones. The Commission wants to hear detailed and specific accounts of the  differences in “fees,  laws,  regulations, cargo handling, customs processes, related terminal/port procedure, infrastructure, or intermodal services” that might affect a shipper’s decision to use a foreign port over an American one. They also want to hear what incentives, like discounts or bonuses, are being offered by foreign ports and terminal operators to shippers.

They  want to hear people’s opinions on why shippers are using ports like Prince Rupert over American ones and to provide supporting evidence to back their assertions up.

Besides just knowing and hearing why shipping companies are not using American ports, they also want to hear why importers or other transportation companies like railways or trucking companies might prefer  to use foreign ports.

The commission wants to know and – if possible – to quantify what are the advantages and disadvantages of each option that a cargo owner would consider before choosing what port to send their  goods to in order to reach American markets. Specifically, what the role of the Harbour Maintenance Tax plays in that decision. They also want to know the pros and cons of the different transportation services being offered at the ports after the cargo is unloaded.

Most importantly, the commission wants to know what the US Government can do to make American ports more competitive with those like Prince Rupert. After all the evidence is gathered, the Maritime Commission will be making recommendations to congress on who to exactly that.

Making submissions to commission is open to anyone interested in the issue in the US, Canada or Mexico. Anyone from individuals to Port Authorities,  importers, or any other business or person affected by the issue are invited to send their submission by email to secretary@fmc.gov.