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USDA Releases Container Availability Report

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released the first Ocean Shipping Container Availability Report designed to alert exporters about possible surpluses or shortages of marine containers at 18 inland intermodal load points.

USDA, in cooperation with the Westbound Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, a discussion group of 10 carriers in the westbound Pacific trade to Asia, will use the service to provide shippers with a weekly snapshot of equipment availability at the designated locations.

The service will also forecast likely availability at each location two weeks out, based on advance carrier bookings. The report is available on USDA’s Web site.

“OSCAR represents a model industry-government collaboration, bringing added transparency to the export supply chain,” said Brian Conrad, executive administrator of the WTSA.

USDA and the carrier discussion group began to discuss the feasibility of developing a container availability reporting service following the severe equipment shortages that occurred in 2010 when the trans-Pacific trade bounced back stronger than expected from the 2008-09 economic recession.

The equipment shortages of 2010 were especially hard on agricultural shippers, which account for about 20 percent of the freight moving in the westbound Pacific trade to Asia.

Conrad said OSCAR is not intended to be an exchange where specific carriers advertise surplus containers and are put in touch with customers. Rather, carrier data is submitted anonymously and in aggregate to USDA, which will publish the data on a weekly basis. OSCAR identifies areas in the U.S. where potentially surplus equipment accumulates throughout the year.

“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,” he said.
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