Senator Peters Op-ed in Great Lakes Seaway Review: A Level Playing Field

'It's time for Michigan ports to be treated fairly'

U.S. SENATOR GARY PETERS

Michigan’s ports are a key reason the state serves as an international hub for commerce, supporting the livelihoods of countless families in the Great Lakes Region.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System is a vital transportation network, and the ports along this route provide critical access points for trade to and from the manufacturing hub of the Midwest. That is why I have been fighting to put Great Lakes ports, especially those in Michigan, on a level playing field to ensure the economic competitiveness of Great Lakes states is not being undercut by unfair policies or practices.

As Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I have led the charge in Washington to strengthen security and provide the resources and personnel needed at our Northern Border to make sure trade and travel can move securely and efficiently through our nation’s ports of entry.

Enacted Laws

In 2018, a bipartisan measure that I helped write was signed into law, requiring federal officials to assess all ports of entry, including finding ways to reduce wait times for passengers and cargo at the border. Last year, my bipartisan bill to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors was also signed into law – adding more than 400 new positions to better protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industries at our ports of entry.

While these efforts have helped strengthen our national security and facilitate trade for American farmers, manufacturers and small businesses, Michigan’s sea ports still face barriers to reaching their full economic potential.

The Problem 

Since 2017, the Port of Monroe has been held to different screening standards than other similar ports, resulting in restrictions on their ability to accept international shipments of breakbulk cargo.

A 2019 University of Michigan study found these restrictions lead to significant economic costs for Michigan. For example, the Port of Monroe lost an estimated $15.4 million in revenue when shipments to support the construction of a new mill for Arauco in Grayling, Michigan were forced to be diverted to ports outside of Michigan because the local Customs and Border Protection officials required additional, costly screening equipment that is not consistently enforced at other ports. 

I have worked closely with the Port of Monroe leadership, and they are committed to making investments to strengthen security screening and make infrastructure upgrades to ensure the port is able to securely process international cargo. But they also need reliable business and revenue to fund these crucial upgrades.

The seemingly arbitrary enforcement of these restrictions at one port – but not others – limits Michigan’s economic competitiveness and raises questions about whether these screening rules are truly effective and based on risk.

Finding Solutions

In my role on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I’ve been pressing leaders at the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that Michigan ports receive the same treatment as other ports in the United States. I have been encouraged by my recent conversations with senior officials from the Biden Administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. I am confident they understand the very real costs of these unfair and cumbersome requirements, and I look forward to working with them to address this very serious challenge.

I’m also continuing my efforts to ensure Customs and Border Protection has sufficient resources and personnel to fulfill their vital mission of facilitating the secure and efficient flow of lawful trade and travel across our borders. The agency faces a shortage of customs officers who staff our busy ports of entry, interdict illicit drugs and contraband, and safeguard our homeland security.

I’ll continue to spearhead bipartisan efforts in the Senate to address this serious challenge and hire additional customs officers.

The Great Lakes and the shipping industry they support are an economic engine for our entire region. Demand for e-commerce and other changes to supply chains have increased congestion at already busy sea ports along the east and west coasts. Heartland ports in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System offer a ready-made relief valve to alleviate some of this congestion – and grow the economies of Midwestern states. We simply need to ensure they can compete on a level-playing field to reach their full economic potential.

To view the full Great Lakes Seaway Review summer edition that includes Senator Peters' op-ed, please click here