Puerto Rico retail, food distribution groups reject alleged shipping agreement
Warn of potential transportation cost increases; lawmaker to introduce
measure requiring probe, action by Ports Authority
SAN JUAN – Saying urgent action against the potential merger of two of the companies that control the entry and exit of products to Puerto Rico, the president of the United Retailers Center (CUD by its Spanish acronym), Dr. Jorge Argüelles Morán, and the executive vice president of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA), Manuel Reyes, said the move puts at risk not only businesses but also the island’s population.
The focus of a public hearing chaired by the Rep. José Aponte Hernández on Thursday was the merger of the Luis Ayala Colón company with Puerto Rico Terminals, an affiliate of TOTE Maritime, whereby Puerto Nuevo Terminals would operate a seaport and provide services in the Port of San Juan.
“Right now, we have four shipping companies that serve Puerto Rico individually. With this merger, the TOTE company would end up dominating 70% of the transportation. This would leave in the hands of TOTE and Crowley absolute control of tariffs, container offloading, and schedules to lift merchandise from the dock, as well as who can enter the port of San Juan. Undoubtedly, this commercial union would imply a nefarious monopoly for the country,” CUD’s president said in a joint statement.
For his part, Reyes said it was “frustrating to see how in Puerto Rico we minimize the costs and difficulties that merchants have to bring their merchandise while the whole world is constantly fighting to have a competitive and interconnected maritime transportation system, through which 90% of the world trade in goods is conducted.”
At the hearing, the minority delegation favored House Resolution 1371 to reject the cooperative agreement between maritime companies. Both Aponte and the minority spokesperson, Luis Vega Ramos, questioned a lack of action by the Port Authority.
“That they have not made a formal consultation either to the Governor or to Fortaleza [the governor’s office] nor to Justice is unacceptable. I think it is an abdication of the responsibilities of the Ports Authority,” Vega Ramos said.
Rep. Aponte warned that “if the merger takes place, Puerto Nuevo Terminals will have full control of the international cargo entrance to Puerto Rico.”
The lawmaker said he was introducing a measure to initiate an investigation and that requests immediate Port Authority action before the Federal Maritime Commission, which regulates the oceanborne international transportation of the United States.