When Congress reconvenes in late September, Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell plan to introduce a bill to level the advantages Canadian ports have over American ports. Named the Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century, the plan would levy an import tax on cargo that enters the U.S. by land, similar to the tax already imposed on cargo entering by air or sea. Therefore, cargo that is unloaded in Canada or Mexico and shipped by rail or truck to U.S. destinations would pay the same tax as good unloaded directly at U.S. ports.
“Currently – the Harbor Maintenance Tax is diverting US-bound sea cargo, which should enter our country through the Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma, or other ports along our shores,” Sen. Murray pointed out when outlining the plan. “Instead, shippers have decided it’s more cost-efficient to send those US-bound goods to Canada and Mexico first – only to ship them to the United States by truck or rail.”
Specifically, the proposal would:
- Repeal the Harbor Maintenance Tax and replace it with the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee. The proceeds would be fully available to Congress to provide for port operation and maintenance and are expected to double the funds available for American ports.
- Ensure that shippers cannot avoid the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee by using ports in Canada and Mexico.
- Set aside a portion of the user fee for low-use, remote and subsistence harbors that are at a competitive disadvantage for federal funding.
- Create a competitive grant program using a percentage of the collected user fees to improve the U.S. intermodal transportation system so imported goods and goods for export can more efficiently reach their intended destinations.
- Pay for expanded infrastructure investments by closing loopholes that enable subsidies for oil and gas companies.
According to Sen. Murray, “This legislation will change the Harbor Maintenance Tax to give shippers new incentives to move their goods through American ports – particularly those in the Pacific Northwest.”
The U.S. collects a harbor maintenance tax of 0.125 percent of the value of each cargo container unloaded at Tacoma ports – about $109 per container, or more for high-end goods. Cargo unloaded at Canadian ports do not pay that tax. Seven percent of those revenues are raised through the port of Seattle and Tacoma, but they receive only one percent back.