Operational levels at the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) have returned to normal level, according to ICTSI. COURTESY OF ICTSI

FOURTEEN of the country’s biggest business groups on Thursday urged the government to implement a moratorium on fees and charges slapped on shipments currently stuck at the country’s ports, as the Luzon-lockdown continues.

The statement, signed by groups led by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Management Association of the Philippines, PhilExport, and the Supply Chain Management Association of the Philippines, urged the government to improve logistics efficiency and lower costs, especially at ports.

The government should “implement a moratorium on demurrage/detention fees, port congestion surcharges, and other penalties imposed on cargoes/ shipments stuck at the port due to slow DO issuances/bank processing/customs clearance and apply this retroactively to all shipments affected,” the business groups said.

As an example, they noted that international shipping lines slapped port congestion surcharges of $1,400 per reefer container, in addition to demurrage charges of up to P2,800 per dry container and up to P3,200 a day for reefers.

The Export Development Council (EDC) has already asked for a waiver on demurrage fees, but the Transportation department told them to elevate such request to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).

The business groups also asked the government to extend the free storage period at the ports to 10 days from five days. After the five-day free storage period, shippers currently pay storage fees to port terminal operators of P962-P1,443 per day for dry containers and P192.50 an hour for reefers.

They also requested for sufficient container yards for the empty containers of shipping lines.

Business groups also suggested the adoption of a “super green lane” or quicker shipments through reduced assessment requirements for the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, and the Clark Development Corp.

A memorandum from various government agencies on April 2 gave companies up to seven days to withdraw reefers from congested Manila ports. The Philippine Ports Authority in March warned that overstaying cargo could cause the shutdown of the port terminals.

The business groups said the truck bans and number-coding should be lifted, and that automation at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) should be improved.

“Something drastic must be done to address the downtime arising from inefficient servers of the BoC. Delay or failure to process documents online is a critical factor behind port congestion,” the statement said.

Subic and Batangas should be used as extension ports, the business groups said.

They also asked the government to rescind a 1980 letter of instruction giving the Philippine Ports Authority a share of cargo handling revenues, saying that it unnecessarily increases logistics costs.

“The negative impact [damage] such a policy brings to the economy is definitely greater than whatever the government does with the revenue it generates,” they said.

The business groups said that there should be a regulatory impact assessment on national and local government issuances to reduce confusion that cause delays on the transport of goods.

“We recommend that the (technical working group), with (Anti-Red Tape Authority) taking the lead, conduct regulatory impact assessments on COVID 19-related issuances to ensure that the rules are consistent, contributes to efficiency, and lower cost.”

Businesses have expressed concern regarding the disruptions to their supply chain during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), mainly due to delays at ports or checkpoints.

Meanwhile, an International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) official said utilization at Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) has returned to normal.

Bumaba na sa normal levels iyong utilization dito. In fact, it’s been this way now for almost a week to the point na wala nang naghihintay na barko for quite some time,” Christian R. Gonzalez, executive vice-president of ICTSI, said during the Laging Handa briefing on Wednesday.

Mr. Gonzalez said he expects the situation at the port to continue to normalize whether the ECQ is lifted or not on April 30.

Importante din na sabihin na kailangan pa rin nating i-institute iyong mga penalties at iyong mga regulasyon dito whether PPA, port operator or other government agencies para ma-ensure na maluwag palagi ang puerto. Importanteng-importante ito, at kasama din diyan iyong constant communication (It’s important to say that we need to institute those penalties and regulations whether the PPA, port operator or other government agencies to ensure the ports are always free of congestion),” Mr. Gonzalez said. — Jenina P. Ibañez with report from Gillian M. Cortez