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US agricultural shippers have appealed to the US government to act to stop the “unconscionable imposition of millions of dollars of unfair … fees” placed on the industry by ports and shipping lines.

The letter, sent by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition on behalf of 80 organisations, said it sought “government engagement” with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), which has developed a Proposed Interpretive Rule, but which has yet to be adopted.

“Ocean carriers and terminal operators impose detention and demurrage charges on US agriculture businesses when ocean freight containers cannot be timely returned to, or picked up from, marine terminals within a short ‘free time’ window, even when the delay is caused by the ocean carriers or terminals themselves (such as when the terminal is closed, or the ship is late),” noted the letter.

Arguing that the fees and penalties, as shown in an FMC investigation, were punitive and not incentivising, the letter said they imposed “unreasonable costs and significant burdens on the US shipping public”.

“These fundamentally unfair fees are frequently exorbitant in nature, even exceeding the negotiated freight rates in some cases, and render US agriculture exports less competitive in the global markets.”

The comment period on the interpretive rule ended in October, giving the FMC “more than sufficient” time, it added.

“The ongoing injury to US agriculture and forestry industries as a result of these unjustified penalties is very real, especially with the challenges posed by the coronavirus. There is great concern about detention and demurrage fees being assessed when there are equipment issues beyond the control of the shipper or motor carrier as a result of the pandemic.”

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