The Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, the carriers' carrier, is like a bus. Never there when you need one and then three press releases come along at the same time.
Right now is just the moment for a news bulletin to be issued, to give another angle to the thorny topic of antitrust immunity.
Congress is flapping its wings over rate collaboration and cargo rollovers by carriers. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sees these as prime suspects in his mission to free up competition on the route and it's clear he is extremely zealous. The National Industrial Transportation League is the main lobbying force behind Oberstar and carries a lot of clout in transportation authority and influence manipulation – far more than the TSA, unfortunately.
Which is why it pains industry watchers that there is silence from the container carriers.
One of the most telling arguments against the TSA comes from NIT League boss Peter Friedmann, who says the original reason for antitrust immunity was to protect US-flagged vessels, but there are hardly any left.
Airline alliances are being held up as the equivalent of the rate agreements, but the big difference is that the biggest airlines are US-owned, which gives a very different spin to the economic and regulatory aspects.
Oberstar also wants safeguards against supposed unfair last-minute rejections of cargo and unannounced surcharges. Pinpointing and abolishing those will be a devil of a job – foreign carriers could invent a dozen plausible excuses and in the last resort could cancel a string or sailing.
Vessel sharing agreements are probably a good compromise, but Oberstar is suspicious here too. It seems that the carriers could be caught between a rock and a hard place, as Congress is trying to herd them into a pen that says "Lower rates all the time", while also slapping on penalties for putting up rates.
Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, has advanced an equally telling point for antitrust immunity, in that surcharges have proliferated on the European route, even though shipping conferences have been eliminated, while rates have risen faster than on the US trade lane.
If the carriers fail to come up with a defence of the TSA system, the 80 percent likelihood is that a messy, unsatisfactory system will be imposed that will achieve only 20 percent of what was intended.