The U.S. House of Representatives approved Monday the Senate's version of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act (ORSA), sending the legislation to President Joe Biden, who said he will sign it.
The bill, which passed on a 369-42 vote, aims to reduce bottlenecks at U.S. ports and reform shipping practices to aid agricultural exports.
It earned "yes" votes from all 18 Illinois House members except Reps. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, and Mary Miller, R-Oakland, who both did not vote.
"Lowering prices for Americans is my top priority, and I applaud the Congress for passing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act on a bipartisan basis, which will help lower costs for American retailers, farmers and consumers," Biden said in a statement following the final vote.
Both the House and the Senate versions of the bill seek to address the issue of ocean carriers refusing to transport U.S. ag commodities 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.
The lack of ag goods on outbound ships, in turn, has cost U.S. ag exporters billions of dollars in lost sales and costs idling in port.
U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and John Garamendi, D-Calif., drafted the House version of OSRA, which sets minimum standards for ocean shipping service contracts and prevents ocean carriers from retaliating against shippers that lodge complaints.
“Foreign flagged ocean carriers are playing games with American agriculture exports and our bill puts an end to it,” Johnson said in a statement. “The Ocean Shipping Reform Act is the strongest fix to our maritime laws in a generation. Americans are facing record inflation, our bill isn’t a silver bullet, but help is on the way.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Thune, R-S.D. authored the Senate version of OSRA, which requires the Federal Maritime Commission to write new rules addressing the empty container issue no later than 6 months after the legislation is enacted.
"This bipartisan legislation will level the playing field for manufacturers, farmers, and consumers – a major win as we work to strengthen our nation’s supply chain," Klobuchar said in a statement. "Now that it heads to the White House, we are one step closer to helping American exporters get their goods to market in a timely manner for a fair price.”
Agriculture groups have been supportive of the bill, which American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said was needed because shipping costs and delays have prevented farmers from meeting global demand.
"Some estimates suggest we’ve lost out on more than $25 billion in agricultural exports over the past six months because of ocean shipping constraints. That’s unacceptable," said Duvall, who met with Biden last week to discuss the bill.
.@FarmBureau prez lobbying @POTUS to get Ocean Shipping Reform Act passed thru Congress.House passed its version of the bill in Dec., then Senate passed its version in March. House would need to OK Sen. version, or chambers would need to negotiate a compromise to send to Biden. https://t.co/1iRjYlZbvZ— Tim Eggert (@TimothyMEggert) June 8, 2022
"Limited trade has also made it more difficult to import supplies like fertilizer, which increases costs to farmers and ultimately hurts all families through higher grocery bills," Duvall said.
"During the pandemic, ocean carriers increased their prices by as much as 1,000%. And, too often, these ocean carriers are refusing to take American exports back to Asia, leaving with empty containers instead. That’s costing farmers and ranchers — and our economy — a lot of money," Biden said.
"This bill will make progress reducing costs for families and ensuring fair treatment for American businesses — including farmers and ranchers. I look forward to signing it into law."