Ocean Shipping Bill to Aid Supply Chain Slated for House Vote

  • Supply chain crunch draws attention among House members
  • Bill would address empty shipping containers, enforcement

U.S. international ocean shipping regulations would undergo their first major update since 1998 under a bill the House is scheduled to vote on this week as lawmakers look to address backlogs in the supply chain.

Disruptions from the pandemic have exacerbated challenges in the shipping industry, with major U.S. ports facing backups that have caused shortages and price increases ahead of the holiday season.

The bipartisan legislation (H.R. 4996), sponsored by Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), includes provisions to deal with shipping container issues and to help the Federal Maritime Commission crack down on unfair ocean carrier practices.

“The major reform is long overdue,” Johnson said in an interview. “And it’s not just because we’re in supply chain crisis right now, it’s also because the marketplace has changed so dramatically.”

‘Complex’ Supply Chain Woes Spur Congress to Seek to Clear Ports

Photo: Tim Rue/Bloomberg
Container ships at anchor outside the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 21, 2021.

The White House said last month that the bill included “good first steps towards the type of longer-term reform to shipping laws that would strengthen America’s global competitiveness.”

Empty Containers

The bill would prohibit ocean carriers from unreasonably turning down opportunities for U.S. exports, as decided by the Federal Maritime Commission in a new rulemaking.

Some shipping carriers have found it more lucrative to send empty containers back to Asia rather than use them for exports from the U.S. because there is a shortage of boxes and more demand for imports.

The bill would also expand the commission’s investigation and enforcement powers.

Garamendi was among more than 20 Democrats who wrote to House leaders last week asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to allow votes on legislation to ease supply chain bottlenecks that have led to shortages and shipping delays.

More than 150 companies and trade groups support the bill, writing to the lawmakers in September that it “will help address longstanding, systemic supply chain and port disruption issues which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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