FMC Commissioner comments on impact of coronavirus on the supply chain

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Federal Maritime Commissioner Daniel B. Maffei

In a statement released yesterday, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) said that its authorities and available services remain in place during the COVID-19 situation. It noted that some major tradelanes are currently experiencing imbalances in empty and loaded container movements and said that the FMC had been in continual communication with supply chain stakeholders to assess the magnitude of service disruption resulting from logistics issues in China and its impact on ocean carriers, U.S. ports and terminals, and importers and exporters. It noted that U.S. agricultural exporters had been especially disadvantaged by a low supply of empty refrigerated containers.

“Some vessel-operating common carriers have begun to reposition empty refrigerated containers to the United States in order to serve agricultural exporters,” the statement noted. “We hope that vessel-operating common carriers continue to make operational decisions that alleviate imbalances in the ocean container supply chain. As ocean commerce resumes, the Commission will continue its assessment of challenges impeding cargo delivery.”

MAFFEI: FACILITIES MUST STAY FUNCTIONING

n a separate statement, FMC Commissioner Daniel B. Maffei said that he and his colleagues had been working to execute the Commission’s mission and to advocate within the Federal government for the companies and workers whose functions are so vital to the supply chain in times of crisis.

“Although the effects of the pandemic in China have somewhat subsided, the resumption of vast amounts of cargo moving from Asia through the supply chain and swings in U.S. demand will bring up new challenges as our country goes through the midst of the public health crisis,” he said.

“We know shippers do not have sufficient access to refrigerated containers, ports are facing excess numbers of empties, and terminals and warehousing facilities are dealing with operational difficulties due to volume swings, potential cases of COVID-19, and shortages of appropriate equipment to properly protect vital workers from becoming sick.

“The good news is that dedicated workers in marine terminals as well the sailors, truckers, and rail workers – and all of those that support them – are continuing to work through this crisis and serve the nation. Federal, state, and local officials have wisely recognized longshoremen, truckers, and other workers in the supply chain are essential and have exempted them from stay-at-home orders. Continued support from government at all levels is important to keep cargo moving through the supply chain. For example, state and local officials need to listen to transportation and supply chain experts when they are advised to allow facilities to open – such as cargo storage facilities or truck stops – that may not seem essential but, in effect, must stay functioning to maintain the supply chain of essential goods. Of course, these facilities must take precautions recommended by public health authorities as other essential facilities do.

“Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with stakeholders throughout the industry. Throughout the supply chain, we are seeing examples of how a crisis can bring out the best in people, corporations, and institutions. I find it remarkable how resilient our supply chains are in the face of such a world-wide crisis. That said, we all need to ‘batten down the hatches’ as it appears matters will get worse before they get better. Also, in such a vast industry, we need to acknowledge there may be a few bad actors and be ready to take serious enforcement actions against anyone who acts in an unreasonable manner during a national emergency.”

“Collaboration is key”

Commissioner Maffei concluded by saying that, “collaboration is key to managing this crisis. If any part of the supply chain or any group of stakeholders bears too much of the burden, the entire system is at risk. Challenges that threaten the entire supply chain include the need for extra cargo container space, equipment shortages in key geographic regions, and temporary closures of port or warehouse facilities. These situations and others that arise may require various stakeholders to put aside their preconceptions and work together to find solutions. I believe the Commission – and in some instances one or more individual commissioners – will do all we can to be a catalyst in finding such solutions.”

He noted that the thoughts and comments expressed in the stement are his own and do not represent the position of the Commission.

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