Office of Service Contracts and Tariffs
The Shipping Act allows ocean common carriers, either individually or through agreements, to negotiate and execute service contracts with one or more shippers or shippers' associations. Under service contracts, shippers make a commitment to provide a certain volume or portion of cargo over a fixed period of time and carriers commit to a specified rate and a defined service level. These contracts are filed confidentially with the Commission. A concise statement of certain contract terms, i.e., commodity or commodities involved, minimum volume or portion, duration, and origin and destination port ranges, is required to be published in carriers' tariffs or conferences. 46 U.S.C. app. § 1702(19).
Service contracts offer an alternative to transportation under tariff terms. Contract flexibility enables carriers to tailor their transportation services to the specific commercial and operational needs of shippers. The confidentiality of contracts has spurred commercial innovations and brought greater efficiencies in the movement of cargo. Overall, the use of service contracts has continued to increase significantly due primarily to the efficiency, flexibility, and confidentiality of one-on-one negotiation of contracts between shippers and carriers.
The Shipping Act, requires common carriers and conferences to publish their tariffs in private electronic systems. Tariffs are to be made available, typically through Internet access, to any person, without time, quantity, or other limitation. Carriers are permitted under law to charge a reasonable fee for providing public access to their tariffs. The Bureau reviews and monitors the accessibility and accuracy of the private systems and reviews published tariff material for compliance with the Shipping Act's requirements. The Bureau acts upon applications for special permission to deviate from tariff publishing rules and regulations and recommends Commission action on specific problems and concerns regarding the publication of tariffs.