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JOC’s 17th TPM is set to launch in Long Beach, California.

The unprecedented level of carrier mergers and acquisitions in 2016 may have had little operational impact, but it set the table for a sweeping alliance restructuring early in 2017 and a more consolidated industry that shippers will face going forward.

Some experts say we’ve hit a bottom in freight rates and that an upward adjustment can be expected in the coming years. Although that’s far from certain, there’s no question that following the combinations of CMA CGM and APL, Cosco and China Shipping, and Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping Co., that the possible breakup of Maersk Group, and further carrier consolidation that could easily follow, shippers will face a different industry in 2017 and beyond. Some believe 20 east-west carriers will consolidate down to 10.

The impact for BCOs will occur on many levels. Will fewer, larger carriers bring greater discipline on capacity deployment and pricing? Could it mean more investment in basics such as customer service? Could it mean faster transit times for key trans-Pacific port pairs? Which carriers should a shipper contract with and how many? How best to spread cargo among the remaining alliances? How can shippers protect themselves in the event of a carrier corporate failure? How should BCOs manage the day-to-day challenge of debilitating customer service issues? What is the most effective way for shippers to communicate all of these changes to internal stakeholders?

As this is happening, the industry is plowing forward in new ways. Silicon Valley is taking an ever greater interest in container shipping, but what potentially disruptive models will emerge? Other new ventures such as the New York Shipping Exchange aim to create a new and potentially more sustainable basis for shipper-carrier contracting. To what degree is longshore labor disruption in the U.S. still a risk?

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