US regulators are reviewing a proposed agreement between two marine terminal operators at the Port of Miami that would allow the terminals to jointly negotiate terms and conditions with container lines — a first for the United States.
Although the port of Seattle and Tacoma came together operationally as the Northwest Seaport Alliance in 2015, this is the first time two marine terminals have sought the Federal Maritime Commission’s blessing to create their own alliance. Miami’s South Florida Container Terminal and Port of Miami Terminal Operating Company want to jointly negotiate, set, and approve terminal rates, charges, rules, and regulations, and rates of return between the terminals.
The terminals’ request parallels the vessel-sharing agreements container lines have formed to pool their cargo in larger ships in order to mitigate overcapacity and broaden their networks. Through the alliances, the container lines still compete with fellow members, and are forbidden from jointly marketing, selling, or contracting with third-parties, such as tug operators and stevedores.
According to FMC Commissioner William Doyle, agreements such as that in Miami are a direct response to the Ocean Alliance, a VSA between China Cosco Lines, Evergreen Line, CMA CGM, and Orient Overseas Container Line set to take sail in April. The Miami terminals did not respond to requests for comment from JOC.com.
“Since the Ocean Alliance is allowed to jointly negotiate as an alliance with marine terminals who agree to do so, some marine terminal operators and port authorities may want to explore options for entering into their own alliances where they could jointly negotiate terms and conditions with the ocean carriers,” Doyle said at a North Atlantic Port Association meeting outside of Washington, DC. last week.
FMC commissioners say they have also been approached by others, including the South Carolina Ports Authority, regarding a potential partnership with another Southeast port operator.
“We’re absolutely going to have more agreements,” FMC Chairman Mario Cordero told JOC.com this week.
Doyle said the Miami terminals’ discussion agreement is a step beyond that of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which gained the FMC’s green light in July 2015, because it will also allow those terminals to jointly negotiate terms and conditions for services with the ocean carriers.
Language in the proposed agreement includes conference and rate-setting authority that would allow the terminals to discuss and agree on matters of rates, charges, rules, and regulations through joint or individual marine terminal operator agreements with ocean common carriers. Additionally, the proposal would authorize the terminals to meet individually or as a group with one or more users, including ocean common carriers, to discuss any matters related to rates, charges, rules, and regulations.
“The agreement appears to allow the terminals to jointly meet with a group of ocean common carriers, like an alliance grouping, and come to a joint agreement for services,” Doyle said.
The draft agreement submitted on Nov. 16 is still under review, but has received some positive feedback from the likes of Doyle and Cordero. As with vessel-sharing agreements and the agreement for the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the FMC is expected to publish the language of the agreement for a public comment period. The FMC will then have 45 days to request additional information before making a decision.
“At the end of the day, you can’t have major ports in the same region independently trying to address issues in the supply chain,” Cordero said. “This agreement allows the FMC to monitor this in such a way that it doesn’t border collusion or anticompetitive behavior.”