Home » Maritime » Shipping lines open to congestion surcharge talks under proper forum

INTERNATIONAL carriers are open to discussing the issue of the port congestion surcharge in a "consultative meeting".

PortCalls on Monday reported that shipping line representatives who attended the Department of Trade and Industry-Philippine Shippers' Bureau (DTI-PSB) hearing last Friday left the gathering early.

The decision came about after the foreign carriers observed "they were about to attend a full-blown public hearing on the port congestion surcharge, not the DTI-PSB consultative meetings they used to attend in the past," Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) general manager Atty. Maximino Cruz told PortCalls in a letter dated January 11.

The DTI-PSB hearing was called to determine the basis of the port congestion surcharge equivalent to $50 for every 20-footer and $100 for every 40-footer. During the meeting, DTI-PSB suddenly called on carriers to stop collecting the surcharge until all public hearings are completed.

"We wish to make some comments on the reported walk-out by the carriers in the January 7 public hearing…. which, if not immediately clarified, could be misconstrued by some sectors as an overbearing display of callous indifference on the part of foreign carriers," Cruz wrote PortCalls.

He noted that the carriers came to the meeting ahead of the appointed time and "despite the fact that the PSB notice was issued only on January 3, 2011."

He said the carriers attended the meeting "voluntarily in deference to the invitation of the PSB and in recognition of the mandate granted to said agency to conduct continuing consultations and negotiations with shipping companies for the shipment of goods on time, at reasonable rates and acceptable shipping terms and conditions, pursuant to Section 3 (b) of Executive Order No. 514 issued on March 26, 1992.

"What they had in mind on January 7 was a consultative meeting of the type similar to those DTI-PSB meetings conducted in the past where the government office sets the stage to establish a constructive dialogue between the parties in an effort to work out viable solutions to a given problem. This is the kind of forum which they believe is contemplated under the PSB mandate. The carriers in fact expressed their misgivings to participate in the public hearing to PSB even before it started."

Cruz explained that public hearings "are generally hard to manage and tend to become acrimonious at times spawned by frayed nerves and emotional outbursts. A productive consultation process is difficult to achieve under such an unwieldy, stressful atmosphere. Furthermore, there is always the danger that the questions raised could touch on the rate issue, a sensitive matter which foreign carriers will certainly avoid discussing to prevent any possible breach of the antitrust law.

"It is also important to note that most of the carriers invited were represented by foreign expats who were not accustomed to the rigors of public hearing."

Cruz stressed that "foreign carriers are willing to sit down with PSB in a consultative meeting that is conducive to a fruitful dialogue where both parties are accorded equal opportunity to present their side and seek solutions to address the problem."

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