F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
April 9, 2000
Can't Do Business with COSCO Crooks

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

What's the point of expanding trade with China if the China Ocean Shipping Company, or COSCO, can't be trusted to honor its obligations?

Charles Marshall of Jewel Seafoods Limited in Seabrook, South Carolina has been in the seafood business for 25 years. In 1996, he reached an agreement with a Chinese merchant to export 400,000 pounds of frozen whole crabs, valued at more than half a million dollars, from the U.S. to mainland China. "The first product was shipped shortly thereafter," he recalls, "in what looked to be [the beginning of] a high-volume, long-term export deal." Marshall reports, however, that "the second container load was spoiled at the Charleston ships port terminal, when the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) failed to keep the cargo frozen prior to loading on their vessel."

Marshall did not learn about the problem "until several additional loads were in transit," one of which COSCO also spoiled through negligence. He and his Chinese associate were given the run-around when they tried to collect on their losses. "We were able to establish without a doubt . . . that COSCO was clearly responsible for the losses," Marshall emphasizes. "In spite of the evidence, COSCO officials dodged us at every turn."

For three years Marshall pursued all legal means to settle the claim, working with "both U.S. and Chinese legal firms, to no avail." During that time, he was struck by the dismissive attitude of COSCO officials, who seemed confident that they would not be held responsible for their actions "either in China or here in the U.S." Marshall deduced from their manner that COSCO must be getting "special treatment from our government."

When he contacted the legal office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Marshall was assured by a Commerce official that the department would "step in and mediate a settlement." That official was subsequently replaced by another, who denied that his predecessor had made any such promise. "This is such an obvious case of fraud and deception that COSCO's actions are indefensible," says Marshall. "The closer one looks into this situation, the more obvious it becomes that our government may actually be [acting] in concert with these thugs." With no expectation of ever being reimbursed for his losses, the seafood exporter concludes that COSCO has "gotten in bed with the present administration, to the misfortune of almost everyone in America."

Here's a man who really believes in free trade, who established a relationship of trust with an honest Chinese merchant and looked forward to many years of mutually beneficial exchange. Isn't this exactly the sort of development that the Chinese and U.S. governments claim to be fostering? Why then do they risk jeopardizing billions of dollars in ongoing trade by cheating one small exporter? Is it because they can? Because they know -- or think they know -- that there's nothing he can do about it? Well, that's where they're wrong. Charles Marshall is already doing something about it. He's telling everyone he can about the disreputable tactics of COSCO and counting on his fellow countrymen to express their indignation. Let's not let him down.