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June 13, 2024
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The following newsletter articles were taken from the February 1999, Volume XI, Number 2 edition of "The Bulletin". Any questions or comments regarding content should be addressed to Alistar Mcnab at 713-678-4300.
 Mexico Objects to Adding Environment to Free Trade Talks
Talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico to establish a Free Trade Zone of The Americas by the year 2005 are in trouble as Mexico is objecting to the joining of trade and the environment in the talks.
Mexico is opposing measures which would bring international pressure on a country for its environmental policies. Mexico along with several other nations believes foreign based special interests could use the process to exploit some nations. Mexican negotiators believe that discussions concerning the environment are best done at a domestic level and do not belong in international trade talks.
This opposition could result in any type of free trade agreement without same type of environmental procedures facing extreme opposition in the U.S. and Canada dooming any agreement to potential failure.
Up to now, the FTAA negotiators have only come up with a weak compromise on environmental issues, creating a special committee to take input from a broad range of interest groups concerned with the environment, labor rights, human rights and women's rights.
 Customs Appealing Tariff Classification Dispute
 to Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in the first Customs Service case in decades.
The case is the United States vs. Haggar Apparel Co., a classification dispute which has a much broader implication, i.e. whether the courts must show deference to Customs -- a presumption of expertise -- in interpreting its own regulations.
Although Customs is arguing that every other government agency gets that respect, the trade community argues that is because the government has set up a court with the expertise to review Customs' decisions, the Court of International Trade.
Importers are worried if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Customs they will lose the right to challenge Customs decisions on tariff classifications and other matters.
 U.S. Steelmakers Renew Quest for Legislative Quotas for Import Steel
U.S. Steelmakers are again lobbying Congress to impose tough new quotas on imported steel. Congressmen from steelmaking states are preparing to introduce legislation which will roll back steel imports to about 20% of the U.S. market versus the now nearly 50% share triggered by the Asian economic crisis.
The United Steel Workers Union of America, along with a coalition of U.S. steelmakers, has been lobbying the Clinton Administration to impose quotas on many kinds of imported steel. However, when the President declined to take any sort of unilateral action, the union and the steelmakers' coalition shifted their emphasis to a legislative one.
The bill expected to be introduced by Rep. Peter Visciosky, a Democrat from Gary, IN., a major steel producing area would direct the President to impose monthly tonnage quotas on all imports of steel from foreign producers. This would be a major deviation from the current efforts by the domestic steel industry to reduce imports of hot-rolled steel from producers in Brazil, Japan and Russia.
If the bill is passed, it would cause a major reduction in imports from countries such as Australia, Britain, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and the Ukraine.
 NITL Comments on FMC OSRA Rules
The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) has tiled comments with the Federal Maritime Commission in two separate proposed rulemakings that deal with implementation of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998 (OSRA).
The proposed rules are : Docket 98-21, Miscellaneous Amendments to Rules of Practice and Procedure; and Docket 98-25, Amendments to Regulations Governing Restrictive Foreign Shipping Practices and New Regulations Governing Controlled Carriers.
Although the rules laid out in Docket 98-21 are primarily administrative, the League stated that it supported the FMC's effort to simplify streamline and reorganize the structure of its rules. The League commented specifically on provisions in the OSRA affecting the FMC's exemption authority. The comments by NITL urge the Commission to grant exemptions when the agency finds it is able to make a determination, that it can exempt any class of agreement or specified activity from any requirement of the statute, and the exemption will not result in substantial reduction in competition; it should have no choice but to grant such exemption. Currently, the Shipping Act of 1984 allows the FMC to deny such an exemption even if it finds such an exemption is possible.
As to Docket 98-25, which primarily deals with controlled carrier operators, the League commented on the body of law affecting the definition of "predatory practices" as they apply to certain ocean carriers.
The League claims the changes brought about OSRA did not require changes to the Commission's proposed rules which adds "below market pricing" as an example of "predatory practices" The League claims the reference to "below market pricing" is indistinct and not supported by well developed law.
 Port of Houston Statistics 1998
Preliminary numbers coming out of the Port of Houston Authority are showing that the public port had a good year with total cargo showing a 14 percent growth to 25,839,766 short tons.
On the bulk side, the biggest movers were Industrial Chemicals at 6,282,193 short tons (down 7% from last year, but still the biggest category); Coke at 1,690,013 short tons (up 40% over 1997); and Grain at 1,364,329 short tons (up a staggering 229% from the year before). Strong gains were also made in Molasses (up 30% at 159,903 short tons); and Tallow (up a spectacular 75% at 228,149 short tons).
Bagged goods, on the other hand, showed a modest decline to 621,245 short tons with gains only in Chemicals, Flour; and Bagged Goods, not otherwise specified.
Container movements did show gains but ended the year with only a disappointing growth rate of 3.7% over 1997 representing 988,169 teus and not breaking through the one million teu benchmark that had been forecast. Growth at Barbours Cut was somewhat lackluster at less than one percent over 1997 whereas container activity at the Turning Basin managed to grow at 22.46% when compared with the previous year to reach 15.75% of the total container movement handled at the public docks. The preliminary total teus for the two facilities were 815,771 for Barbours Cut and 152,398 for the Turning Basin.
When analyzed further, Barbours Cut showed an increase in imports of 8.8% and a decline in exports of 2.7%. The movement of empty containers inwards declined 11% whereas, empty containers going out increased by 48.2%. The Turning Basin, on the other hand, showed increases in imports and exports (30.1% and 8.0% respectively) while empty box movements rose spectacularly by 31.7% inwards and 428.7% outwards.
There is no doubt that the recent downturn in the world economy is having an adverse effect on Houston's seaport activity with slower than anticipated growth. But continuing growth there is. Based on an ever-widening regional scope and on diverse cargo sectors (containers, breakbulk, neo-bulk, bulk etc.), the public port at the Port of Houston is in good shape and has had a good year.
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