Houston Business Journal by Molly Ryan, Reporter
Date: Thursday, April 5, 2012, 9:33am CDT
U.S. Representative Ted Poe is trying to start a dialog about ports, but he is finding that it isn’t easy.
“We understand it is not one of the items people want to talk about,” he said during a visit to the Houston Business Journal.“When you talk about ports you just try to keep people awake.”
However, Poe, a Republican representative for northeast Houston and areas around the Port of Houston, Port Arthur and the Port of Beaumont, explained that talking about the ports, especially in the Houston area, needs to happen.
“(People) don’t realize how much of the U.S. economy is based upon our ports,” he said. “We need to raise awareness to get the funding they need for infrastructure … to keep them deep enough, wide enough and efficient enough to be competitive worldwide.”
Getting enough funding to support operations at the Port of Houston has long been a topic of discussion within the industry. Insiders at the port worry that once the Panama Canal expansion is complete in 2014, the larger ships that will traverse the canal will be stalled in the Port of Houston because the ship channel isn’t deep enough and there are large amounts of congestion. The port also needs to catch up on its dredging efforts, which are backlogged due to cuts in federal funding.
In order to drum up more interest about port issues, Poe recently partnered with Congresswoman Janice Hahn, a Democrat from California, to form the Congressional Ports, Opportunity Renewal, Trade and Security (PORTS) Caucus. The caucus hosted its inaugural event in February, and since then Poe said the bipartisan group is focused on getting funds for port maintenance.
“It’s something they need every year, and it is lagging behind,” he said. “There is money that goes into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (a national fund) that is not spent. One thing we are trying to do is spend the money that is there.”
Poe also spoke about a his new intellectual property rights bill, the Foreign Counterfeit Prevention Act, which is designed to allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide information samples, such as bar codes and identifying marks, to rights holders when a counterfeit item is in question.
The Congressman explained that when suspected counterfeit items come through the port, Customs cannot send pictures of bar codes and identifying marks to the product rights holder, due to the Trade Secrets Act. Therefore, he said, the product rights holder often has a hard time identifying whether the item is counterfeit or not.
With his proposed bill, customs would be able to share photos of identifying marks on the products with the rights holders.
“They can tell within minutes if this product is theirs or not, and if it is a counterfeit product, it is seized by customs,” he said.