President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday a bill that aims to reduce bottlenecks at U.S. ports and reform shipping practices to aid agricultural exports.
Joined by American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and members of Congress at the White House, Biden signed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which passed out of Congress on June 13.
“In short, it’s going to help begin to lower shipping costs, bring down prices on ... goods ... and products that the American family needs, that they make to export as well as import and ensure that American farmers, ranchers and other exporters are treated fairly,” Biden said.
The bill was sent to Biden’s desk after the U.S. House voted 369-42 to approve the Senate’s version of the bill. All 18 Illinois House members cast “yes” votes, except Reps. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, and Mary Miller, R-Oakland, who both did not vote.
Both the House and the Senate versions of the bill sought to address the issue of ocean carriers refusing to transport U.S. ag commodities and other American products to Asia.
That practice became more widespread amid pandemic- induced supply chain disruptions, according to lawmakers, as companies found it more cost effective to return containers empty, fill them with Asian goods and send them back to U.S. ports.
Biden said ocean carriers also took advantage of the pandemic to raise their shipping fees by as much as 1,000%.
“They rake in the profits, and the costs got passed on, as you might guess, directly to consumers — sticking it to American families and businesses because they could,” Biden said. “Furniture, appliances, clothing, anything and everything that crosses the Pacific on the ship from Asia saw a price tag shoot up and families and businesses felt the squeeze here at home.”
Biden added he spoke with the CEO of Tractor Supply, who reported his cost for a shipping container rose from $35 to $25,000.
But it’s the lack of ag goods on outbound ships that in turn has cost U.S. ag exporters billions of dollars in lost sales and costs idling in port.
Duvall, who has been supportive of the bill and met with Biden recently to discuss it, said Thursday farmers have lost an estimated $25 billion in ag exports in the last six months because of ocean shipping constraints.
The new law, he said, will “hold ocean carriers accountable” and “ensure that we get necessary imports into our country and that agricultural goods can be exported efficiently all over the world.”
Duvall added: “Our farmers and ranchers take pride in stocking Americans’ pantries and addressing the hunger of the world. This new law will help us ensure that we can do both of those things.”
The law sets minimum standards for ocean service contracts and prevents ocean carriers from retaliating against shippers that lodge complaints.
It also requires the Federal Maritime Commission to write new rules addressing the empty container issue no later than six months after the legislation is enacted.
“It’s no solace that inflation is higher around the rest of the world. Gas prices are higher across the world. Doesn’t matter. It’s much too high here,” Biden said. “This bill is going to help bring down inflation, at least marginally, for farmers and businesses all across America.”