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Congress and Maritime Commission Take First Steps on Ports

September 2, 2021

NMPF welcomed bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) on Aug. 10 to address unfair practices and charges implemented by ocean carriers. The legislation, entitled The Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021 (H.R. 4996), was the result of a strong push from NMPF, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), and a coalition of agricultural exporters.

The bill would increase the Federal Maritime Commission’s authority to oversee and regulate ocean carrier activities, expand the agency’ enforcement options and penalties against violations, increase transparency and accountability of the commission and ocean carriers, and provide new opportunities for exporters to seek redress from ocean carriers for violations.

NMPF, with cooperation from the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), worked closely with congressional offices as the legislation was drafted, providing detailed examples and economic impact analysis with critical input from NMPF and USDEC members. The legislation represents an important step forward, but much work remains to be done to see it passed by congress.

The House also increased enforcement funding by $525,000 in late July for the maritime commission in the Department of Transportation’s appropriations bill and directed the agency to enhance assistance to U.S. exporters and importers without hiring lawyers.

Supplementing this congressional action, the maritime commission finally responded to persistent calls from NMPF and other agricultural organizations for more proactive enforcement measures by launching an audit of ocean carriers’ billing practices on July 20. The commission on Aug. 4 asked eight ocean carriers to justify port congestion surcharges as part of its investigation into unreasonable detention and demurrage charges.

NMPF will continue to proactively advocate with the administration and Congress to pursue additional solutions to support and complement the congressional action, including an effort to drive a more comprehensive near-term response from the administration to the shipping crisis.