Fill your dance card

COMMENT: The race is on to find a dance partner on the US East Coast to deal with the quick-stepping shipping lines, heavy-footed container ships and twirling alliances, writes Carly Fields.

Seattle and Tacoma blazed a trail with their Northwest Seaport Alliance back in 2015, but there was a lag before anyone else followed. But as the container line waltz turned into a quick step, US authorities now seem to be falling over backwards to find a suitor.


The US Federal Maritime Commission approved an agreement for the South Florida Container Terminal and the Port of Miami Terminal Operating Company to share practices, rates, and rules at the end of last year.


Then came the news that the port authorities of Georgia and Virginia had filed for permission to create the East Coast Gateway Terminal Agreement. The plan is to “encourage voluntary co-operation in the area of operational and supply chain efficiencies, safety, communications and customer service”. More verbose, but essentially they are looking for a similar deal.


Not only has the FMC set a precedent with its approval of the Miami and Tacoma/Seattle deals, but the commission seems to be actively advocating further partnerships of this type. FMC chair Mario Cardero obliquely alluded to the same when he said that the commission is “always interested in receiving well-crafted proposals that seek discussion agreement authority that is narrowly tailored to achieve efficiencies.”


Port and terminal partnerships in response to ever-bullish shipping lines are not restricted to the US. The Global Ports Group Agreement - APM Terminals, DP World, Hutchison, PSA International, Shanghai International Ports Group and Port of Rotterdam – surfaced in December requesting the FMC’s permission to “discuss, exchange information, and co-ordinate on issues affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the container port industry”. And this year, we’ve seen shipping line terminal arms signing MoUs facilitating greater co-operation.


When the FMC agreed to the Miami connection if conceded that while discussion agreements among ocean carriers are regularly filed with it, agreements between terminal operating companies have been “less common to date”. It may need to revise that statement in the coming months as undoubtedly more tie-ups and alliances will seek its blessing before the year is out.


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