More than 100 organizations representing various aspects of the agriculture industry are urging the Senate to act on a bill to address unreasonable ocean carrier practices that are undermining U.S. export competitiveness. The House in December overwhelmingly passed similar legislation, the bipartisan Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021 (H.R. 4996).
“The transportation crisis for U.S. agriculture products has become increasingly dire. Many agriculture products produced in the U.S. experience significant competition from other countries. If we cannot deliver our products dependably, our foreign customers will find alternatives to our exports,” the American Farm Bureau Federation and the other organizations warned in a recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The letter pointed to a survey conducted by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition that found that, on average, 22% of U.S. agriculture foreign sales could not be completed because of ocean carrier practices like exorbitant freight rates, declined booking requests, failure to communicate schedules in a timely manner and several others.
The groups said they strongly support legislative initiatives to gain reasonable and fair ocean carrier practices consistent with the Federal Maritime Commission’s excellent, but still unenforced, Interpretive Rule on Demurrage and Detention.
Specific to the legislation expected soon from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tom Thune (R-S.D.), the coalition asked that the Senate bill, like the House bill, establish an obligation for carriers to self-police compliance with the FMC rule.
“In addition, the bill should address the ocean carriers’ responsibility to carry U.S. export cargo to the extent they can do so safely. We also ask that legislation provide the FMC with additional enforcement tools to address injurious ocean carrier practices,” the groups wrote.
The groups requested swift action in the Senate, so that lawmakers from both chambers can produce a single bill for President Biden’s signature.