Greasing the wheel that squeaks the loudest, maybe?

Last month, Ron Widdows, APL’s chief executive, told the European Conference of Ministers of Transport in Sofia, Bulgaria, that “massive investments are needed to modernize and expand the transport system otherwise congestion will slow future economic growth rates.”

Mr. Widdows also serves as chairman of the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, a discussion group of 14 carriers involved in the eastbound transpacific trade. As reported by American Shipper Magazine, Mr. Widdows said that the main concern for container lines in 2007 and 2008 is not a weaker market but supply chain disruptions, and that those disruptions could come from congestion in Asian ports, labor slowdowns, truck and inland rail cost increases, and capacity availability. The Asia-U.S. supply chain infrastructure is essentially operating at capacity right now, he said, and he stated that Asia is facing real challenges and that there’s not a lot of margin for error in the system.

This month, at the International Transport Conference in Istanbul, another APL official, David Appleton, APL’s European president, expressed the same concerns and urged the industry to take positive steps to relieve the strain upon Europe’s transportation infrastructure as a result of those pressures brought on by double-digit growth in Asia.

As reported by the Hong Kong Shipping Gazette, Mr. Appleton stated that the threat of choke points caused by inadequate transport infrastructure is now being felt throughout the continent, but supply chain congestion, he said, is not on many radar screens. On the list of global issues, he noted, it does not rank very high even though serious constraints on trade and a slowing of economic growth are very real consequences.

“Forecasts for trade growth in the future show that congestion within the European supply chain will not be reduced.” he cautioned.

Mr. Appleton stated that shipping lines had invested more than $ 12 billion a year over the past three years and intended to increase that amount to more than $ 14 billion this year. To ensure that the industry moves products quickly and efficiently, he said that it would be necessary to improve port planning and to integrate Europe’s rail systems to accommodate freight movements.

Three times 12 plus 14 equals 50 … $ 50 billion, that is. If those shipping lines had invested a similar amount of money to upgrade the supply chain infrastructure in the U.S., things would be running a lot more smoothly in and around our ports. Air quality would be much improved, delays and congestion would be noticeably reduced … and so would the cost of goods.

Instead, officials are insisting that U.S. consumers and truckers must be held accountable for the deteriorating conditions in the transportation chain and should therefore be required to pay for needed upgrading through the imposition of fees, fees, and more fees. After all, the thinking goes, aren’t the consumers at fault for demanding these incoming goods, and aren’t the delivery trucks causing the pollution and congestion? Well, aren’t they?