The U.S. Department of Agriculture is acting as a go-between with carriers and shippers to see if they can find a solution to container shortages for exported products.
Bruce Blanton, director of transportation services said the department's Agricultural Marketing Service is in the early stages of a pilot program that could lead to an online message board where shippers can locate carriers' empty containers.
Before a pilot can begin, Blanton said AMS is engaged in shuttle diplomacy, carrying ideas between carriers and shippers. The idea is to build trust on both sides before starting face-to-face discussions.
"It's all voluntary. They don't know each other. On the shippers' side, they don't even know who the other shippers are," Blanton said. "We can go back and forth until we can get to something we think is a consensus."
Blanton said that the AMS mission is to facilitate the marketing of agricultural products. Ag shippers have been among the most vocal about recent shortages of containers in the heartland, which is impeding their export efforts. USDA's effort is independent of the Federal Maritime Commission investigation of equipment supply and vessel capacity.
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