U.S. Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl Bentzel says that he hopes to win the approval from maritime stakeholders for new data transparency standards organized under the proposed Maritime Transportation Data Initiative (MTDI).
He hopes MTDI will mitigate any future supply chain congestion crisis such as the one the nation experienced between 2020 and 2022.
Bentzel made a presentation of his findings at the Intermodal Association of North America’s (IANA) Intermodal Safety Committee on September 12th during the IANA Intermodal Expo at Long Beach, California.
Bentzel was nominated by President Trump on June 12, 2019 to a term expiring on June 30, 2024. Prior to his appointment at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), Commissioner Bentzel created and established a consulting services company where he represented clients on regulatory and legislative issues within the areas of transportation, energy, and other areas of federal regulatory oversight.
In an interview with AJOT, Bentzel said: “I think the proposed Maritime Transportation Data Initiative (MTDI) will mitigate this from happening again because you will have the information earlier in the process. Right now, no steps can be taken to mitigate because the information usually comes after the event. This will provide a network of information that will give the possibility of trying to adjust … including repositioning the equipment. So yes, I think this will mitigate the impacts of severe alterations … However, that said, supply and demand or natural events can overcome even information. So, I think it will help because we’ll be getting real time information about equipment incidents.”
He said the genesis for the MTDI came as congestion problems mounted in 2020: “We were in contact with port authorities during the early part of the congestion. In July of 2020, we started to assess what was happening at the ports. We started to hear that there were backups of cargo at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. At that time, I was in contact with the port authorities about the causes of the congestion. It was clear that the information flow was at least contributing to the challenges. Shippers were getting ETAs from the carriers that were being revised continually.”
The feedback from maritime stakeholders has been mostly positive: “The feedback that we have been receiving from maritime stakeholders is that they have information, and it would perhaps require some adjustment to how they provide the information. But they can do this… We are not getting cargo information per se. And we’re allowing that to be closed. And that’s what they tell us is proprietary. What I’m requiring to be open … (is what) … you can see with your eyes. That’s something we might request further harmonization and further specificity. But these are not issues that are proprietary, they are common knowledge. Open information is public information that the public should have access to related to the transportation and real time operations related to the status of operations and for the ancillary facilities that service the ports. So, this would include a terminal when they are open and (when) they are closing it to empty returns and policies that govern access to that facility. Closed is information with parties that are legally entitled to receive the information with appropriate encryption … We’re not changing that at all.”
He said railroads will have to provide some information, but they are not directly under the jurisdiction of the Federal Maritime Commission: “We don’t have direct jurisdiction over the railroads. We have jurisdiction over the practices of ocean carriers and marine terminals under a through bill of lading. The only way that I can enforce it is to go after a regulated entity and say you can’t, in your intermodal practices, have a carrier that’s not compliant with these same standards.”
China’s Container & Chassis Dominance
Finally, Bentzel recently published a report warning about China’s dominance of container and chassis manufacturing markets entitled: “Assessment of P.R.C. Control of Container and Intermodal Chassis Manufacturing.”
Bentzel noted that the three largest Chinese manufacturers control over 86% of the world’s supply of intermodal chassis and those same companies manufacture over 95% of the world’s market in containers, including “U.S. domestic train and truck intermodal containers.”
He further noted that the U.S. Department of Commerce has determined that “Chinese container and chassis manufacturers are state-owned and controlled and are recipients of large government subsidies.”
Bentzel’s report concluded: “… the global supply chain is too interdependent not to have broad access and manufacturing capabilities for intermodal operational equipment. The United States should assess whether given (China’s) market dominance that further trade action be contemplated and whether to invest more aggressively in next generation container manufacturing technology.”