New legislation for US ports

Up to 27% of container volume moving through West Coast ports is at risk of diverting to Canada's Prince Rupert. Photo: Prince Rupert Port Authority Up to 27% of container volume moving through West Coast ports is at risk of diverting to Canada's Prince Rupert. Photo: Prince Rupert Port Authority

A new legislation is being considered to strengthen American ports and enhance the competitiveness of the country’s export economy.

Washington’s US Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have proposed the Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century be put in place to ensure there are enough funds to keep both large and small ports in operating condition.

Currently, the Harbour Maintenance Tax, which funds the operation and maintenance of US ports, is not being fully collected. Shippers can avoid paying the tax by shipping goods through other ports in Canada and Mexico and then transporting the goods into the US via truck and rail.

In addition, only half of the reduced tax revenue that is collected is actually spent each year.

Senator Cantwell said in a press conference on the issue, held last week: “The threat is real. The Federal Maritime Commission found that up to 27% of container volume moving through West Coast ports is at risk of diverting to Prince Rupert.”

Josh Thomas, Port of Portland spokesperson, told Port Strategy: "Ports are increasingly part of networks or systems of transportation delivery that depend on properly maintained infrastructure. Linked to ports are railways, bridges and highways. As such, when one mode fails or is imperiled, the broader transportation network linked to the other modes will also fail."

The new legislation would see the Harbour Maintenance Tax replaced with the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, the proceeds of which would be fully available to Congress to provide for port operation and maintenance. This would double the amount of funds available, say the Senators.

It would also ensure that shippers cannot avoid the fee by using ports in Canada and Mexico and pay for expanded infrastructure investments.

It is also being proposed that a portion be set aside for low-use, remote and subsistence harbours that are at a competitive disadvantage for federal funding.

The act would also set up a competitive grant programme using a percentage of the collected fees to improve the US intermodal transportation system so goods can be exported more efficiently.

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