Thursday, July 12, 2012
USDA launches weekly export container availability report
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the first weekly edition of a new report that identifies the availability of shipping containers for export shippers of agriculture products.
The Ocean Shipping Container Availability Report includes voluntary, anonymously-supplied aggregate data by the 10 ocean carrier members of the Westbound Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, and will be published every Wednesday at: ams.usda.gov.
"Agricultural exporters, particularly those in the U.S. heartland, often face great difficulty in finding available marine shipping containers," said Arthur Neal, the USDA's transportation and marketing deputy administrator in a statement.
"This new report was developed to provide more information to help facilitate the exporting of agricultural products. The industry's collaboration in this effort was vital to making this report a reality," Neal said.
The report charts five types of shipping containers at 18 intermodal locations around the U.S. and will provide carriers' estimates of equipment availability for the current week and projections two weeks out, according to the USDA.
"The data will offer a more transparent view of container flows, increasing efficiencies and providing additional information to help U.S. exporters of all types of cargo locate equipment to move their products," the USDA said.
The debut report's weekly overview includes information such as a three-week forecast that says the most container availability is at the ports of Long Beach, New York-New Jersey, and Oakland.
Inland locations in the three-week time frame with highest container availability are Dallas and Chicago, especially for twenty-foot, and forty-foot high cube boxes, the latter of which has the greatest availability of the container types at over half of the 18 locations, according to the report.
The WTSA said its role in the reporting project grew out of discussions that began in 2010 when there were widely reported equipment shortages in the trans-Pacific trade with tighter vessel capacity and curtailed container manufacturing due largely to idled ships from the 2008-2009 global recession even though demand for U.S. exports was surging.
"Agriculture exporters face particular equipment challenges in the U.S. -Asia freight market, where they account for about 20 percent of total waterborne shipments," the WTSA said in a statement.
"Many products are perishable, with short lead times to market; shippers need equipment in rural areas far from where import containers are unloaded and stored; heavier agricultural cargoes generate demand for more equipment because containers reach their weight limits before they are fully loaded; a historic 2-to-1 ratio of higher-value import traffic versus return export loads forces export shippers to compete for vessel space with empty containers being repositioned to Asia," the WTSA said.
Shippers of farm products rely on specialized refrigerated and temperature-controlled equipment that is not in general use for import boxes coming into the U.S. from Asia, according to the WTSA.
Brian Conrad, the executive administrator for the WTSA said the anonymous carrier equipment data supplied to the OSCAR program shouldn't be construed as an "exchange where specific, named carriers advertise surplus containers in a particular location and are put in touch with customers."
"The main purpose behind OSCAR is to provide visibility into how equipment flows trade wide on a week-to-week and seasonal basis, so that exporters are able to work with their carriers to access containers in the most efficient way possible," Conrad said.
"In its current form the report strikes an important balance, identifying areas in the U.S. where potentially surplus equipment accumulates throughout the year but also retaining an accurate, real-world understanding of what the container surplus and deficit data actually represent," the WTSA statement said.
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