US Congressional legislation to reformat the Ocean Shipping Act and give the Federal Maritime Commission additional authority focused on export containers is expected to reach President Biden for his signature by mid-June. Halted for months due to differences between the versions of the bill passed by the US House and Senate, Bloomberg reports that the House leadership has decided to take a vote on the Senate version of the bill. law as the fastest route to adoption.
Speaking to Bloomberg, House members who sponsored the bill said they considered the Senate version weaker than theirs, but believed it was the best avenue available due to the complexity of the issues. Senate voting rules. The House has repeatedly passed its version of the bill with bipartisan support and, starting next week, will vote on the Senate version of the bill. The alternative to the House passing the Senate bill would have been to seek reconciliation, but that requires new votes in both houses of the legislature after the bill is completed.
Dusty Johnson, a representative from South Dakota and one of the House bill’s co-sponsors, told Bloomberg that passing the reforms would be “the most significant change to U.S. maritime law in a generation. “. The Ocean Shipping Act was last revised in the 1980s.
The reform effort grew out of port congestion problems and repeated complaints from shippers and mainly exporters. A broad coalition of trade groups representing shippers, truckers and the agricultural sectors have all backed the bill. All groups have been highly critical of the shipping companies and blamed their policies for the drop in US exports. They argued that in the rush to get empty containers back to Asia, carriers were making it difficult for American companies to export their goods.
The Senate version of the bill addresses the fees charged by carriers as well as the business practices most often cited by U.S. manufacturers and the agriculture industry. The bill prohibits shipping carriers from unreasonably denying shipping opportunities for U.S. exports, with the FMC determining policy in a new regulatory authority. In addition, it requires common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter the total tonnage of imports and exports and TEUs (loaded/empty) per vessel calling at US ports. The authority of the FMC is also expanded with new authorization to initiate stand-alone investigations into the business practices of public maritime carriers and to apply enforcement measures as well as new registration requirements for maritime exchanges. Shipping carriers also have additional requirements to justify fees charged to shippers, including D&D, and the FMC is getting new authorities to impose penalties on carriers for unreasonable fee policies.
The decision to go ahead with the Senate version of the bill is also a partial victory for the industry. The World Shipping Council said the bill failed to address the root causes of the problems, which lay in the lack of investment and port infrastructure. The WSC strongly opposed the stricter provisions of the House version of the bill.
John Garamendi, a California representative who also sponsored the House bill, said he would monitor the carriers’ progress. Garamendi told Bloomberg he was ready to introduce additional legislation for carriers bringing loaded containers to the United States, requiring them to also carry loaded exports.
The FMC also proposed its actions to further strengthen oversight and enforcement of carrier rules. Chairman Daniel Maffei recently called for an increase in the size of the FMC’s staff and an increase in its annual budget to handle the increased workload contained in the Ocean Reform Act.