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International Agreements

Although the international market for maritime transportation services is relatively open for fair competition, there are instances in which governments impose anti-competitive barriers that restrict market access for U.S. maritime interests. Such restrictions add to costs, limit revenues, impede efficient operations and negatively impact the profitability of the U.S. maritime industry. Many of these restrictions can be relieved through direct negotiation, and sometimes rely on statutes administered by the Federal Maritime Commission to impose trade remedies. In some instances, it may be necessary to negotiate bilateral agreements with foreign governments managing these key open markets. Such agreements may also be necessary with non-market economies.

Bilateral Agreements include direct contacts with foreign governments or groups within foreign countries on specific problems affecting the maritime industry and can begin with letter exchange (signifying soft agreements and the intent to negotiate) and/or more in-depth consultations. The U.S. conducts bilateral maritime agreements only in rare instances where circumstances warrant such action. However, the U.S. monitors bilateral maritime and trade agreements between other countries to ensure that they do not impair U.S. market access.

The few U.S. maritime agreements currently in effect are with Brazil, China, Korea, and Russia. See below for details on key international agreements and negotiation artifacts.


The current U.S.-Brazil Maritime Agreement represents a succession of bilateral maritime agreements dating to the 1970s. The heart of the agreement is to ensure equal access for each country’s national-flag carriers to the other country’s government-controlled cargo. Brazil has historically designated a large share of its foreign trade in commercial goods to be government cargoes.


A current U.S.-China Maritime Agreement is extended automatically for successive one-year periods. The agreement addresses U.S. carriers’ rights to open branch offices throughout China and assures China of continued open access to U.S. markets.

European Union (EU)

The US and the European Union (EU) have a Short Sea Shipping agreement to promote sustainable and competitive freight and passenger transport.  This agreement affirms the desire of both sides to have regular meetings to exchange information and to share ideas and best practices.


The U.S. and Japan carried out an exchange of letters on port services in November 1997 that constitutes an official agreement still in effect and resulted in a series of consultations to exchange views on issues of mutual interest and potential areas of cooperation.


The United States and Korea have held a series of bilateral discussions regarding maritime issues of mutual interest, with strong focus on mariner training, maritime workforce, and increasing maritime trade. The two countries have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in the fields of maritme transport and logistics.


The United States and Panama have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation, which will enhance cooperation between the two nations, encourage private-sector cooperation and investment, and further mutual economic opportunities.


The United States and Russia bilateral maritime agreement represents the evolution to a free-market model of maritime relations between the two countries, relatively free of government intervention. Consultations have been held to discuss a range of issues affecting maritime transport.


The United States and Vietnam reached an agreement that allowed U.S. carriers to open wholly owned subsidiaries in Vietnam, thus eliminating the Vietnamese monopoly of maritime trade in the region and strengthening economic relations.

Other Bilateral Relations and Consultations