Exporters push for VGM rule delay

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) container-weighing rules have shippers rushing to assure compliance by July 1, and U.S. exporters are turning to the Coast Guard for help.

In 2014, the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) approved changes to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention that will regulate how exporters weigh their cargo. While the rules are designed to improve safety at ports and at sea, shippers worry that they could negatively impact trade. Implementing them will take changes to the regular workflow at docks in countries around the world, not just the U.S. or Canada, and exporters worry the extra time dedicated to new container weighing procedures could slow them down.

SOLAS container rules designed to improve safety
The container weighing rules bar shippers from estimating the weight of their containers. Instead they will be required to use certified weighing equipment and procedures to more accurately determine the weight of cargo. These changes were made due to the fact that loading and transporting under-declared containers can be dangerous. For example, in 2007, after the MSC Napoli broke apart in the English Channel and subsequently beached, under-declared containers were blamed for the incident. Other similar episodes followed in subsequent years. Therefore, the IMO hopes that new container weighing regulations will reduce the chance of another repeat.

The SOLAS container weighing guidelines offer two ways for shippers to determine the weight of their cargo. The shipper or a representative will be allowed to either weigh the container and the contents as one, or weigh the cargo and container separately to add together the two numbers. The exporters will then be required to submit the VGM to the carrier. These carriers will not be allowed to move containers onto ships without VGMs.

Exporters pushing back against the SOLAS container rule implementation date
Exporters in the U.S. are among the many shippers around the world that worry compliance with the new rules could set them back. The exporters asked the Coast Guard to pursue amendments to the regulations to push back the implementation date and ensure they will not be at a disadvantage against foreign competition, the Journal of Commerce (JOC) reported.

“We cannot put U.S. exporters at a greater competitive disadvantage than they already are due to the high price of the U.S. dollar,” Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, told the media outlet.

At an Atlanta meeting attended by 60 exporters, Friedmann explained that changes to determining verified gross mass (VGM) would clearly disrupt the shippers. He added that the U.S. should not implement the rule until it is determined that it would establish a level playing field with foreign exporters.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, is expected to issue rules on how containers should be weighed soon. While the IMO will require exporters to begin weighing containers, there is not a harmonized international standard process. Rather, countries are expected to establish their own container weighing guidelines. The World Shipping Council noted that the SOLAS regulations do not allow for delayed implementation, which means it is less than likely that the Coast Guard will acquiesce to shipper demands.

The rules requiring determination and submittal of VGMs have been criticized for their potential to disrupt shipments and implementation dates. However, requests to delay the rules may not result in any change. Instead, it may behoove exporters to begin putting together processes for determining VGM once the Coast Guard releases its container weighing guidelines. This way, they are as ready for the new rules as they can be come July 1.