US maritime politics is getting murkier, who would have thought of it? Just when the straitjacket of antitrust regulation was about to be wrapped around the TransPacific Stabilization Agreement, the politicians seemed to be getting ready to remove it altogether with the shift in power in Congress. But now there are signs that the political asylum doctors are getting it ready again, albeit with looser sleeves than originally designed
The new change in mood comes from the National Industrial Transportation League (NITLeague), which has been the most powerful advocate for shackling the Pacific carriers.
A complete overhaul of the Shipping Act, as proposed by the league, is a dead duck, but changes are possible. "A Republican Congress would be rather warm to the idea of bringing international ocean shipping into the same legal framework that all other businesses deal with in terms of competition," says Bruce Carlton said, president of the association. "This immunity was given to carriers in 1916. It's 2010. Conditions that were pretty bad in those days don't exist any more. I think that a Republican Congress tends to see the touchstone as competition, not protection. So I don't think we're out of alignment at all when we say it's time to inject more competition into this industry."
The league is adamant about ending enforced liner carrier agreements, as filed with the FMC, which gives the league an interesting bargaining tool with the new Congress.
Dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are inherently suspicious of China's maritime and trade policies, which extends to carriers being forced to report their rates to the Shanghai Shipping Exchange. If politicians want this regulation removed, they should tell the US to do the same, otherwise they could be justifiably accused of bigotry.
Clearly, there has been scurrying around inside the Beltway by the lobbyists, and new messages are being sent to Congress. Even more scurrying is likely from January.