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Remarks of Steven R. Blust, Chairman, WESTCONN International Trade Association, Inc. Stamford, CT, September 24, 2002

September 24, 2002

Remarks of Steven R. Blust, Chairman
Federal Maritime Commission
WESTCONN International Trade Association, Inc.
Stamford, CT

 

September 24, 2002


Thanks Mark for the introduction, and thanks to Peter Engle for inviting me here tonight. Your group represents an impressively broad cross-section of the maritime industry. I am sure that the opportunity for dialogue amongst yourselves will greatly benefit your individual interests, as well as everyone's interest in developing and expanding trade. My purpose here tonight is to briefly describe the Federal Maritime Commission, and point out how we might be of service to your members.

The Federal Maritime Commission plays a crucial role in the marketplace by ensuring that "Fair Maritime Competition" exists in the ocean transportation industry, resulting in maximum benefits to the nation, with a minimum of government intervention and regulatory cost. The intent of our governing laws is to let market forces guide the growth and development of U.S. international trade. The Federal Maritime Commission is charged with ensuring that there are no undue controls, influences, or non-market barriers imposed by any nation, carrier, cargo owner or intermediary, which can adversely affect U.S. oceanborne trade. The FMC does not have a promotional role; rather, our mandate is to help remove impediments to fair competition and thereby allow you to conduct business as effectively as possible.

I'd like to first emphasize to you that our staff at the FMC, including Jim Mingione, our New York Area Representative who is here with me tonight, is always available to answer any questions that you might have concerning the requirements and regulations that may be relevant to your businesses. We encourage you to utilize our website which contains contact phone numbers and email addresses, and other useful information concerning the FMC and the laws which we administer. You may find useful a Frequently Asked Questions list just added to our website. I brought with me tonight a few sample pages from our website, www.fmc.gov, for your reference. The second page is our Quick Guide to the agency which gives you a good summary of the FMC's responsibilities.

The Commission's various functions likely touch each one of your businesses in some way. The Shipping Act of 1984, our operating statute, provides the Commission with some jurisdiction over just about every player in the maritime trades. I will describe just a few of our functions in some detail:

The Act requires that any person in the United States who operates as an ocean transportation intermediary ("OTI") obtain a license from the Federal Maritime Commission. OTIs include both ocean freight forwarders, which have historically been licensed by the Commission, as well as non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOCCs). Moreover, all OTIs, whether in the U.S. or foreign based but engaged in the U.S. foreign commerce, must furnish evidence of financial responsibility in the form of a surety bond, guarantee or insurance. This is available to pay for damages arising from the OTIs' transportation related activities. On our website, under the heading "View Carrier List," you will find a list of the locations of tariffs of licensed OTIs. We intend soon to post a comprehensive list of licensed OTIs.

The Commission also issues certificates of financial performance and casualty to cruise lines which have sufficient financial responsibility to pay judgments for personal injury and death or for nonperformance of a voyage.

The Commission reviews operational and pricing agreements between ocean common carriers to ensure they do not produce excessive anticompetitive effects.

The Commission also receives all service contracts entered into by ocean common carriers and shippers, and maintains a database of those service contracts. It makes sure that carriers' electronic tariffs are published in an accessible manner. The Service Contract Filing System can be accessed from our website, though the database is of course not public. On our carrier list page you will also find the location information for VOCC tariffs.

Further, as part of our mandate to protect against discriminatory, unfair, or unreasonable rates, charges, classifications, and practices of ocean common carriers, terminal operators, and freight forwarders, the Commission has jurisdiction to hear complaints brought against any party subject to the Shipping Act of 1984. Private parties can bring complaints before an administrative law judge, or the Commission may initiate investigations or other enforcement proceedings on its own initiative. We also provide an alternative dispute resolution service and an Office of Informal Complaints to help any party to a transaction, including customers, ocean transportation intermediaries or carriers, in resolving disputes quickly and informally. Through this program we provide assistance to cruise passengers as well. I have included in your packets some information about our informal inquiries and complaints program.

The Commission is authorized to address restrictive foreign shipping trade practices pursuant to Section 19 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and the Foreign Shipping Practices Act of 1988. These statutes empower the Commission to make rules and regulations governing shipping in the foreign trade to adjust or meet conditions unfavorable to shipping and to address adverse conditions that affect carriers, OTIs and shippers in the foreign trade, but which conditions are not otherwise applied to foreign entities operating in the U.S. Simply state - reciprocity.

I know that maritime security and port security legislation is a topic of much interest to you and to the industry in general. While our role at the FMC is primarily of support to the front line organizations, I would just like to assure you that it is something we at the FMC include in our day to day functions, such as the licensing of OTIs. We hope to use our expertise and vast collection of commercial information to assist the various entities on the front lines of securing our ports and vessels. As such, we regularly provide technical expertise and assistance to those entities.

As many have said before, I believe it is essential that each entity in the supply chain, including government agencies, do its own part toward securing the chain. I believe that all of the entities involved in ocean transportation, including government agencies, must form a collaborative and integrated system to ensure the safety and efficiency of the supply chain. I support the C-T PAT - Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism - and see that Customs is now accepting applications from OTIs to participate in this program. I encourage you to avail yourselves of this opportunity. By working with trusted partners, you can help to ensure the safe and expedient transportation of cargo.

Before I close, I want to encourage you again to take advantage of the resources we have to offer through our website or by contacting the Commission directly. One new initiative I hope many of you will take advantage of is a series of seminars hosted by our five field offices to help educate the public and the industry about our functions and services. Our area representatives have always functioned as a kind of "help desk" for the industry and we hope to formally expand this role through these seminars. Topics will likely range from the assistance the Commission can offer you in your day to day business to topics of timely interest to the industry.

Finally, when doing my research in preparation for this event, I noted that your mission statement sets out your purpose as creating an "industrial and academic awareness of the importance of international trade." I would suggest that you might wish to add "public awareness." It seems to me that there has never been a better time to raise the public profile of the maritime industry. The public is newly aware of the potential vulnerability of our ports and ships to terrorist activity, which in turn should bring to the forefront the importance of the industry and international trade generally in the day to day lives of the American people.

I wish you the best in fulfilling your organizational mission. I know that the industry as well as the American public will benefit from your collaborative efforts. Thank you for having me here.