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Feds Seeking Solutions to Port Problems

August 2, 2021

Working with the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and a group of agricultural organizations, NMPF is now seeing the administration and Congress seeking solutions to widespread concerns within dairy about ongoing ports congestion and unwarranted fees on exports.

President Biden issued an Executive Order, “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” on July 15 that recognizes the need for executive branch action regarding consolidation and certain business practices in several industries, including the shipping sector. The order establishes the White House Competition Council to coordinate and advance efforts to limit overconcentration, monopolization, and unfair competition in or directly affecting the American economy. Relevant to the ocean shipping concerns, this Council will include the Secretaries of Transportation and Agriculture, as well as the chair of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC).

The order also includes specific guidance to the FMC to “vigorously enforce the prohibition of unjust and unreasonable practices” regarding shipping fees. Additionally, it requests the FMC’s Shipper Advisory Committee to issue recommendations for improved enforcement of those and related rules, and for the FMC to consider issuing new regulations to improve export shipping conditions. It remains to be seen whether this process will be sufficient to prompt FMC to play a more proactive role in enforcing carriers’ compliance with the Shipping Act. The language regarding recommendations for improved enforcement and new regulations, however, is noteworthy and will help promote legislative options to address the challenge.

NMPF has hired a firm with expertise in maritime issues to closely monitor the implementation of this Executive Order and work with us in pressing for additional action from the administration and Congress.

On the Congressional front, NMPF, in coordination with USDEC, has provided input to proposed legislation from Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) that extends stronger enforcement authority for the maritime commission to require ocean carriers to comply with guidelines on reasonable carrier practices. The draft legislation would force carriers to certify they are complying with commission guidelines on reasonable detention and demurrage fees, require the carriers to load product if it is at a port and does not exceed safe weight limits, and increases transparency into carrier action.

NMPF will continue to advocate for these important changes to the Shipping Act and continue to seek additional solutions to the ongoing crisis.