The Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association and non-member Hanoi Industrial Textile JSC have filed a complaint claiming that shipping lines from China, South Korea and Taiwan were ripping them off with an unfair surcharge.
Fully known as container imbalance charge, the CIC is meant to offset shipping lines' costs of transferring empty containers from one place to another.
It is only applicable during certain seasons when there is a large gap between import and export activities.
But foreign shipping companies have asked Vietnamese traders to pay the surcharge all year round, a representative of the textile association said at a meeting on Friday. The Vietnam Maritime Administration convened the meeting after receiving the complaint.
Dang Cong Hoang, representative of Hanoi Industrial Textile, said many shipping lines charged businesses up to US$160 per 20-feet container, much higher than the average of $30 found by inspectors in 2014.
CIC payments make up a considerable portion of transport costs, which in turn account for up to 60 percent of all business costs in Vietnam, according to the textile association.
A representative of China's SITC Line Vietnam argued that shipping lines collect the surcharge in accordance with contracts signed by Vietnamese businesses and their partners.
So, in order to avoid paying the charge, Vietnamese companies need to negotiate the term with their partners, he said.
Bui Viet Anh from Chinese shipping company COSCO agreed, saying that Vietnamese businesses should have paid more attention to the terms of their contracts.
The meeting ended with Nguyen Dinh Viet, deputy chief of Vietnam Maritime Administration, promising to handle the case soon, with assistance from the Ministry of Transport.
Foreign shipping lines have for years been accused of ripping off local businesses.
An inspection by the Ministry of Finance in 2014 found 20 foreign companies that dominated the logistics market collecting nearly 70 kinds of surcharges, many of which were either debatable or unreasonably high.
The findings later prompted the Ministry of Transport to draft a decree that required shipping companies to publish their freight rates, including surcharges and commissions paid to brokers.
Some 40 foreign shipping lines are operating in Vietnam, handling around 88 percent of all cargo, according to official figures. They account for nearly all shipments from and to Europe and the US.