Senate unanimously passes bill to ease export shipping backlogs and Boost U.S. exports

WASHINGTON, D.C.(Press Release)— U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, today released the following statement after his Ocean Shipping Reform Act was unanimously passed by the United States Senate. Thune’s legislation, which he introduced with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would support U.S. exporters, strengthen the investigatory authority of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), the agency responsible for oversight of ocean shipping, and improve transparency of industry practices.

“South Dakota producers expect that ocean carriers operate under fair and transparent rules,” said Thune. “I’m glad the Senate unanimously passed this important legislation that 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. Especially with record inflation in prices of goods, this legislation would also benefit consumers by promoting the fluidity and efficiency of the supply chain.”

“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. This legislation will help American exporters get their goods to market in a timely manner for a fair price,” said Klobuchar. “By passing this bill, we are one step closer to leveling the playing field for American manufacturers and consumers.”

The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.), and a companion version was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which was led by U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.).

Yesterday, Thune spoke on the Senate floor and called for the bill’s swift passage and noted the long-term positive changes that would benefit exporters, importers, and consumers. He previously questioned stakeholders and FMC commissioners on the current supply chain crisis as well as the need for legislative solutions. In November 2021, he joined his colleagues in sending a letter to the FMC expressing concerns about how increased shipping costs are being passed on to American consumers. Last March, Thune led a letter urging the FMC to investigate reports of unreasonable practices by ocean carriers, specifically their refusal to carry certain agriculture products from U.S. ports back to Asia.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act would:

Prohibit ocean carriers from unreasonably declining opportunities for U.S. exports, as determined by the FMC in a new required rulemaking;

Promote transparency by requiring ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter on total import/export tonnage and twenty-foot equivalent units (loaded/empty) per vessel that makes port in the United States;

Authorize the FMC to self-initiate investigations of ocean common carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures, as appropriate; and

Establish new authority for the FMC to register shipping exchanges to improve the negotiation of service contracts.

The FMC is the independent federal agency responsible for regulating the U.S. international ocean transportation system for the benefit of U.S. exporters, importers, and consumers. The FMC is primarily responsible for ensuring that ocean carriers and marine terminal operators engage in fair and competitive practices with respect to the movement of goods, while upholding the integrity of service contracts to guard against detrimental effects to shipping. Additionally, the FMC monitors rates, charges, and rules of government-owned or controlled carriers to ensure they are just and reasonable, which promotes fluidity and competition in U.S. international trade.