The US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is renewing its focus on container availability levels for the country’s agricultural exporters.

Speaking yesterday at the Global Maritime Conference, FMC chairman Michael Khouri said the organisation was looking into whether reports that some carriers are refusing to allow empty containers into the US hinterland, preferring to send them directly back to Asia.

“Some ocean carriers – not all – have stated that they will no longer deploy – that is – reposition empty containers to the US interior agricultural areas,” he said.

“Instead, they are expediting empties back to Asia. This abandonment of a significant US export industry – the American agricultural industry – is shutting them out of global markets.

“We are looking into all potential – I repeat – all potential responsive actions, including a review of whether such ocean carriers’ actions are in full compliance with the Shipping Act and more specifically the various “Prohibited Acts” sections of the Act,” he added.

At the end of October, The Loadstar reported that Hapag-Lloyd had decided to suspend US export bookings of soya beans and other agricultural shipments in favour of returning the empty equipment back to Asia to load US import shipments, rather than transporting the equipment inland to agricultural exporters.

Agricultural shipper group, the Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance (SSGA), said earlier this month that the lack of containers and the inability of its members to load export shipments were leading Asian customers to investigate other food sourcing options.

“Our members have heard from customers in Asia that they question whether the United States and its agricultural exporters can continue to be reliable suppliers based on the difficulties of intermodal shipping today,” SSGA executive director Eric Wenberg said.

“Ocean carriers need to work with us to solve these transport problems and get our goods back to Asian ports. The US reputation of being a strong exporter of quality food to foreign customers is on the line. We have to act,” he added.

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