The Maine Port Authority will offer free shipping to local companies that want to introduce products to overseas markets.

The initiative, called First Pallet Free,  covers freight costs up to $800 for eligible Maine businesses on vessels operated by Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company. Eimskip calls weekly at the International Marine Terminal in Portland.

Paying for the first small shipment could ease the hesitation small companies have when they consider exporting, said Jon Nass, Maine Port Authority CEO.

“The idea is that if you are a small Maine business and you want to try a new market, we will pay for your first pallet to go anywhere on the Eimskip network,” Nass said. The network includes two Canadian ports and seven European countries.

The initiative covers the freight cost of a 4-foot by 4-foot pallet that can carry about a ton of material.

That is a relatively small shipment – a 40-foot shipping container holds about 28 pallets – but might be enough for a company to know if there is an appetite for its product abroad, Nass added.

“If it works out, that is great. If it doesn’t work out we helped a business explore that opportunity,” he said.

The program targets businesses that have never exported before or are trying to export a new product.

Shipping through the Portland container terminal has almost tripled since Eimskip moved its U.S. headquarters there in 2013.  Last year more than 22,300 containers were loaded and unloaded on the docks, according to port authority figures.

Imports still dominate the Portland container business, but local exports are growing quickly. More than $193 million in goods were shipped out of Portland in the first 10 months of 2018, a 37 percent increase from 2015, according to statistics from the Maine International Trade Center.

Top exports included prepared fruits and vegetables, arms and ammunition, industrial machinery, soaps and waxes, paper, seafood and medical equipment.

Companies in 10 out of Maine’s 16 counties are now exporting through the Portland terminal, Nass said.

There are other companies that want to dip their toes in international trade waters, but don’t think they can afford it, said Patrick Arnold, owner of Soli DG, the company that manages the International Marine Terminal.

“No one wants to pay for that risk, because it can be a total loss,” he said. If the free pallet shipment is successful, that will encourage business owners to try more, he said.

“It is really a test shipment,” Arnold said.

The port authority has budgeted $20,000 for the program, Nass said. The funding does not cover ground transportation, permitting, documentation or other fees.

The Maine International Trade Center can help companies navigate regulatory issues and other barriers for new exporters, Nass added.

“(The companies) have to do the background work themselves,” he said. “If this interests them and the cost has been a barrier, they should call us.”

Shipments can only be carried by Eimskip ships along the company’s lines. Eimskip’s transatlantic line stops in Portland; Halifax,  Newfoundland; and Iceland, and the company has other lines to Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Netherlands.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at (207) 791-6325 or at:
[email protected]

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