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Transport Minister Takao Fujii expressed strong regret Tuesday over the decision by the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to collect fees from three Japanese shipping lines in retaliation for inefficient and costly harbor practices in Japan.

At the same time, Fujii said he “understands” the decision by the three firms to pay the fines. “It is extremely regrettable that despite our demand to withdraw the sanctions, the FMC decided to collect the money,” Fujii told a regular press conference. “The decision violates the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, and is unfair.”

Fujii said a bilateral meeting based on the treaty will be proposed to the U.S. government through the Foreign Ministry, and that Japan will continue to demand that the FMC completely withdraw the sanctions. Although the FMC and the shipping lines have settled payments for September, it is unclear whether the FMC will withdraw fees imposed for October and subsequent months, a Transport Ministry official said.

The shipping firms reportedly decided to submit the payments out of concern that a troubled relationship with the FMC, which is an independent regulatory agency covering maritime matters, might hurt business operations in the U.S. “I understand they reached their decisions after considering the matter comprehensively, including possible problems that might arise in their operations on the North American route,” Fujii said.

The Japan Shipowners’ Association said in a statement that the three shipping lines were compelled to make the “bitter” decision to submit payments to avoid further actions by the FMC, and they hope the settlement will lead to an agreement between the two governments that results in a complete withdrawal of sanctions after September.

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