PHILEXPORT seeks delay of mandatory container weighing amid COVID crisis

The leader of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT) is calling for the suspension of the proposed mandatory weighing of export containers, questioning whether the policy can be implemented properly amid the pandemic and other urgent issues facing exporters and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

PHILEXPORT president Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr. made the appeal in a January 26, 2021 position letter addressed to Atty. Hiyasmin Delos Santos, manager of the Port Operations and Services Department of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

The call is supported by the Export Development Council-Networking Committee on Transport and Logistics (EDC-NCTL), which sent its own position letter to Delos Santos on February 2, 2021.

In its letter, PHILEXPORT asked that issues surrounding the proposed policy on mandatory weighing of export containers be addressed first so that it can be efficiently and effectively carried out.

This, Ortiz-Luis further said, is also to make sure the measure does not inflict further economic damage or undermine the survival and competitiveness of exporters and MSMEs.

Both PHILEXPORT and EDC said they back the mandatory weighing of export containers as it is consistent with the principles of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea-Verified Gross Mass (SOLAS-VGM) requirement.

SOLAS already has safety regulations that require shippers to declare the gross weight of the container to ensure the safety of people, ships and cargo, but the introduction of VGM in 2016 added a level of security and safety to the procedure.

But Ortiz-Luis pointed out that there are still concerns that have to be resolved before the policy on mandatory weighing can be implemented.

He said that, for one, the cost of mandatory weighing should not be shouldered by exporters and MSMEs, who continue to struggle to survive the impact of the pandemic.

He suggested that the additional procedure “be fully subsidized by government” or “serve as additional complimentary service of the port operators.”

PHILEXPORT also pushed for calibrated and certified weighing facilities to be designated in strategic areas, especially outside the ports, to help avoid congestion and delays that can negatively affect shipment schedules and export costs.

“For MSMEs, a delay or cancellation of an order is enough to close their companies especially in this pandemic where we continue to struggle with many other issues,” explained Ortiz-Luis.

The policy could also make the traffic situation in Metro Manila worse, leading to delays and penalties for MSMEs and exporters, he continued.

Implementation of the mandatory weighing of export containers could also affect production schedules, especially for fresh food and produce where timeliness is a major concern.

PHILEXPORT also opposes leaving to the Master of the Ship the discretion on which vehicles to load or not in the absence of weighing facilities.

PPA Administrative Order (AO) 05-2020 states that “in the absence of other weighbridge facilities in the area or port and in the interest of safety, the Master of the Ship shall exercise his/her authority to have final decision on what vehicles to load or not.”

The PHILEXPORT letter also asked for a 10% tolerable margin on the weight of the containers and for PPA AO 05-2020 to be amended to include provisions that will clearly address issues on providing allowance for discrepancy.

For her part, Elsa Dela Paz Valenzuela, EDC deputy executive director, noted in the council’s position letter that the proposed mandatory weighing of export containers is a “redundant and costly process” since certified operators are already weighing the containers at the port for a fee.

“Moreover, this new policy will entail an additional cost burden on the part of the shippers (especially MSMEs) who will be required to invest in VGM calibrated/certified equipment to comply with this proposed regulation,” she added.

Valenzuela agreed that the policy will also cause undue delays for shippers, who will have to undertake this additional step that will just lengthen the process.

To improve the proposed policy, EDC-NCTL pushed for the automation or online submission of the VGM, “without incurring additional costs to the exporters’ current fees,” in order to minimize person-to-person transactions amid the pandemic.

It also sought streamlining of the process in compliance with Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business Act and Administrative Order No. 23, also known as “Eliminating Overregulation to Promote Efficiency of Government Processes.”

Moreover, Valenzuela cited the importance of clear and specific guidelines such as the cut-off time for VG submission and the standard format for communicating the VGM information and method to avoid port disruptions.

Said Ortiz-Luis: “While the issues are not addressed, it will be most prudent and practical to suspend the implementation of this policy so as not to create further damage to the economy, particularly to the MSMEs and their stakeholders.”

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