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WASHINGTON — A U.S. Senate panel easily approved legislation meant to facilitate the flow of freight at the country’s ports.
The Commerce Committee on March 22 advanced by a voice vote the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. The legislation now awaits full Senate consideration.
Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) called on senators to support the bill when Senate leaders announce a vote on the floor. “These ocean shipping companies are making record profits,” Cantwell said at the hearing. “They have made $150 billion in profits in 2021, and ocean import volume for the first quarter of this year is forecast to increase by more than 30%. Our farmers don’t want special treatment. They just don’t want to be exploited for the sake of record profits.”
Sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), the bill targets the function of the Federal Maritime Commission. It would require carriers to issue certain reports to the commission each quarter and would authorize the commission to self-initiate certain investigations partly related to late fees. It also would pave the way for the registration of shipping exchanges, among other provisions.
“Congestion at ports and increased shipping costs pose unique challenges for U.S. exporters, who have seen the price of shipping containers increase four-fold in just two years, raising costs for consumers and hurting our businesses. Meanwhile, ocean carriers that are mostly foreign-owned have reported record profits,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation will help level the playing field for American exporters so they can get their goods to market in a timely manner for a fair price. Now that this bill has passed the Commerce Committee, it is one step closer to being signed into law.”
“My bill would level the playing field for American farmers, exporters, and consumers by making it harder for ocean carriers to unreasonably refuse goods that are ready to export at U.S. ports,” Thune added. “This legislation would also give the [Federal Maritime Commission] greater rulemaking authority to regulate harmful practices by carriers. These improvements would provide the FMC with the tools necessary to address unreasonable practices by ocean carriers and hold them accountable for their bad-faith efforts that disenfranchise American producers, including those throughout South Dakota, who feed the world.”
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The House recently passed its version of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, during its consideration of a semiconductor manufacturing measure. The semiconductor bill, a version of which has advanced in the Senate, would dedicate $52 billion for the domestic semiconductor manufacturing sector. House and Senate leaders have indicated they plan to have a final version of the bill in the coming weeks.
The Biden White House, which refers to the semiconductor legislative package as the Bipartisan Innovation Act, is pressing Congress to pass the measure.
“The president believes Congress should provide additional tools for the administration to address problems in the ocean shipping industry. The president is encouraged by action in both houses of Congress to address these problems,” per the White House press office.
The Ocean Shipping Reform Act has gained the endorsement of freight stakeholders. At a supply chain-centric roundtable on March 17 hosted by the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, Jonathan Eisen, director of the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference at American Trucking Associations, touted the Ocean Shipping Reform Act’s long-term focus on freight connectivity. He told the House lawmakers the pandemic had exacerbated freight connectivity concerns as well as trucking workforce challenges.
“The most important point about the current supply chain issues we’re seeing is that they’re not necessarily new,” Eisen said. “These are long-standing problems that we’ve been able to deal with.”