Murray, Cantwell Want to Change Tax on Cargo Coming to U.S. Ports

By Ashley Gross, August 15, 2013, KPLU News

Washington’s senators say they want to change the tax that applies to cargo coming into U.S. ports. They say the tax, as it stands right now, is pushing shipping companies to divert containers to Canada and Mexico.

In 2007, the port in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, opened a new facility to accept cargo containers. And traffic jumped from zero containers to more than half a million last year.

Officials from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma say a big reason is that shipping companies can avoid the U.S. harbor maintenance tax by unloading in Canada. Then, they send containers to the U.S. by rail or truck. Sen. Patty Murray says that’s hurting business at Washington ports.

“That means that fewer cargo containers are coming into our ports today. It means less work for longshoremen and pilots. And it means we can’t make investments in infrastructure that our ports need to be state of the art and competitive,” Murray said. “If that’s not a perfect example of an outdated law, I don’t know what is.”

Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell say they’ll introduce new legislation to apply an equivalent fee to containers coming overland into the U.S. so that shipping companies can’t avoid the tax. They say goods that originate in Canada or Mexico will be exempt.

And they want all of the money generated by the tax to go toward port upkeep. Right now, only some of the money goes toward harbor maintenance even though that’s what the tax is for.

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