Congress and Maritime Commission Take First Steps on Ports

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.

Dairy Industry Commends Introduction of Ocean Shipping Reform Act

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) offered their support for bipartisan legislation introduced today by Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD), the Ocean Shipping Reform Act.

The dairy industry, as well as other exporters, has faced substantially increased costs to ship their goods overseas, challenges obtaining containers and other equipment to deliver their goods to ports and beyond, and often incur booking cancellations or delays for vessel space. Owing in part to the Covid-19 change in American online orders, imports have affected vessel operations and container availability, diminishing export options for American dairy products. Ocean carriers have exacerbated this situation with high detention and demurrage charges, the increased shipment of empty containers back to Asia, and other unfair practices.

The Garamendi-Johnson legislation is the result of a concerted effort by NMPF and USDEC, along with other agriculture producers and exporters, to highlight the challenges U.S. exporters face with port congestion and the unfair practices and charges implemented by ocean carriers. NMPF and USDEC are urging Congress and the executive branch to take swift action to address these critical problems.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act would provide new authority to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to address unjust and unreasonable practices by ocean carriers. It would institute new penalties against ocean carriers and marine terminal operators for violations of the Shipping Act, require expanded public disclosure from the FMC and carriers, and establish a series of new regulations against unfair carrier practices.

The bill also offers new oversight of carriers’ charges and fees and will permit the FMC to dedicate collected penalties as restitution to impacted exporters. NMPF and USDEC appreciated the opportunity to work closely with both Congressional offices as the legislation was drafted and are pleased to endorse the bill.

“We are grateful for the bipartisan leadership from Congressmen Garamendi and Johnson in developing and introducing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act,” said Krysta Harden, president and CEO of USDEC. “Dairy producers and manufacturers have faced unreasonable costs and unfair practices from ocean carriers that negatively affect U.S. exports, increasing costs and putting at risk established trading relationships. This legislation will hopefully curtail those abuses and encourage better export-oriented behavior moving forward.”

“Dairy exporters have faced unfair detention and demurrage charges, unreliable and unfair booking practices and cancellations, and unwarranted challenges trying to obtain containers and other equipment,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “While some of these challenges are due to Covid-19 changes in retail purchases, carriers have abused the situation to their advantage. Our members need the U.S. government to act, and we welcome the introduction of this legislation as an important, positive step.”

The economic effects from these challenges are significant – the average cost of transporting a container is estimated to have increased by approximately 200% over the past year, while the estimated impacts to dairy producers from just January to May 2021 include over $200 million in added shipping and related costs, approximately 10 percent of the export value during the same period.

This legislation represents an important step toward implementing both short and long-term solutions, yet NMPF and USDEC continue to urge the importance of additional measures as well to address the challenges plaguing U.S. food and agricultural exporters expeditiously and fully. The organizations urged Congress to swiftly approve the Ocean Shipping Reform Act while at the same time championing the need for additional administrative solutions that could be implemented more immediately to address the ongoing shipping crisis.

Port Congestion Problems Continue for U.S. Dairy Exporters

NMPF, working together with the U.S. Dairy Export Council, is continuing to actively raise the visibility of extensive port-related problems affecting exports of U.S. dairy products with federal officials while engaging on trying to find solutions. These challenges have included backlogs, delays, lack of storage for delayed shipments, and increased costs that have bedeviled shippers and impeded exports since last Fall.

NMPF staff met with key staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on April 13 to discuss the challenges and ways in which Congress could help. Staff also participated in a meeting on April 19 convened with senior officials at the USDA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provided NMPF and groups representing other U.S. agricultural sectors the opportunity to outline problems facing U.S. exporters and press for faster resolutions.

On April 27, NMPF and several of its members joined together in sending a letter signed by almost 300 companies and organizations to the Department of Transportation urging further steps on this issue to help provide relief to U.S. agricultural exporters. NMPF has also been actively working to urge Congressional support for language in the Transportation Appropriations bill that would provide greater direction to the Federal Maritime Commission regarding its analysis of what measures could be taken to help alleviate the export crisis.

NMPF asks for help from the membership to share any information that quantifies the impact of the port problems. Questions and information can be directed to Tony Rice (