New Onerous Requirement for Shippers Coming Online This Summer

A new International Maritime Organization (IMO) rule requiring shippers to physically weigh containers and their contents before being loaded at the port of origin is expected to come into effect on July 1, 2016. This amendment to the long-standing International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty places an additional burden on shippers (both exporters and importers) to obtain and certify the Verified Gross Mass (VGM), or combined weight of cargo and the container. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is the responsible agency for overseeing and enforcing this new requirement, and it will be implemented around the world by the other 161 signatories to the treaty.

Manufacturers have serious concerns about possible delays of shipments and additional costs that have not been fully justified as July 1 nears, and questions remain unanswered as to how the new requirements will be implemented consistently by each country. There was little transparency and limited input from shippers as this issue worked its way through the IMO over the past few years. Manufacturers need more details to begin the process of implementation and achieve compliance. But to reach these practical goals, a partnership is required.

Practical questions remain unanswered. What system or software changes will be needed to transfer certified weight information from shipper to carrier? What processes should shippers follow concerning intermodal movements, especially when scales are unavailable at some ports? What issues could arise from inconsistencies in cargo weight calculations based on a misrepresented weight of an empty container or natural variances in certain products that fluctuate under varying conditions? Not only are there myriad logistical challenges to adapt to, manufacturers are concerned about the unknown liability they will be taking on under the new certification requirements.

According to the amendment, there are only two recognized methods to certify, and shippers are responsible for transferring that information to the terminal and vessel operators in advance of loading the container aboard a vessel. Shippers may either weigh the cargo and container using a certified scale or may add the weight of the cargo (including all packaging materials) to the tare weight (the empty weight) of the container itself. The USCG participated in one public meeting last month at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to discuss concerns about implementation and recently presented one blog as guidance. Though it had been indicated previously that the USCG would publicly release a policy guidance document in the near future, Rear Admiral Paul Thomas has now stated that formal policy guidance may not be needed. Further, the USCG dismissed calls for a delay in implementation. Manufacturers strongly urge the USCG to reconsider on both points.

While the USCG has provided few answers to lingering questions presented by shippers who are seeking to implement these new requirements, the NAM is creating a new SOLAS Container Task Force to further discuss these concerns and to formally advocate a clear and logical process to achieve compliance in a reasonable and fair manner. Manufacturers who have helped usher in a wave of exports over the past eight years deserve opportunities for input and clear guidance from federal regulators. The SOLAS Container Task Force will partner with other like-minded organizations and seek opportunities to engage policymakers and government leaders here in the United States and abroad. Uniform and consistent implementation across the globe is critical to achieving the objective of the new rules—safety of life at sea—and to ensuring the United States retains its competitiveness in the fight for economic growth.

NAM Director of Trade Facilitation Policy Lauren Wilk contributed to this blog.

Robyn Boerstling

Robyn Boerstling is the Vice President of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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