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Ag, food industry groups keep pushing Biden administration to take action on shipping issues

21 October 2021 Richard Morrison
  • Groups laud Biden administration moves thus far on shipping concerns.
  • Groups detail additional moves aimed at providing 'immediate relief' to exporters ahead of busy holiday shipping season.
  • Calls for stricter enforcement of shipping regulations.

While welcoming Biden administration moves to address a recent rise in shipping costs and delays, a slew of ag and food industry groups is asking the administration to take additional near-term action to provide faster relief ahead of expected surges in cargo volumes during the holiday season.

Ag exporters "have faced significant difficulties in obtaining fair and reliable ocean transport of their goods, owing both to an imbalance in the ocean container shipment system as well as unreasonable practices by ocean carriers, virtually all of which are foreign-based companies," the groups wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and other top administration officials. "The increased costs and delays our members face as they struggle to export their products are affecting their competitiveness, growth, job creation, and on a broader level, drag down our trade balance and national economic recovery."

The groups welcomed the Executive Order (EO) on Promoting Competition in the American Economy that called on the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to "vigorously enforce the prohibition of unjust and unreasonable practices" and to "consider further rulemaking to improve detention and demurrage practices and enforcement of related Shipping Act prohibitions." They also hailed a recent roundtable held by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to gather feedback and perspective on shipping issues raised in the EO.

The groups also welcomed moves by FMC including an investigation of carrier practices and proposals aimed at compelling ocean carrier compliance with the commission's Interpretive Rule on Demurrage and Detention. "We support the commission's proposals to expand its authorities to effectively address unreasonable ocean carrier practices. We are hopeful that the newly constituted National Shipper Advisory Committee, will promptly generate specific near-term solutions," the groups said.

But the groups warned that the impending holiday season shipping surge means more immediate action is needed to provide ag exporters relief as slower moving regulatory measures proceed. "The White House Supply Chain Task Force has been meeting with food and agriculture industry stakeholders to identify near-term solutions to supply chain problems," the groups noted, and they recommended the administration consider several moves identified during those discussions:

  • Support legislation, including the bipartisan Ocean Shipping Reform Act, HR 4996, to address the unfair practices that are currently damaging US agriculture exports
  • Direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review the existing Shipping Act law to determine if the enforcement tools in that Act can be activated to gain compliance with the other provisions of the Act setting forth reasonable practices
  • Establish an inter-agency working group focused on facilitating agriculture exports
  • Sponsor initiatives to increase operational tempo, including increasing gate operations, to include port authorities, terminal operators, labor, ocean carriers, shippers, truckers
  • Provide Federal support for deployment of port and national data-sharing portals, such as already developed by the Port of Los Angeles
  • Incentivize ocean carriers to increase export flows, by fully utilizing their existing capacity
  • Increase coordination between the FMC and the Surface Transportation Board on oversight of multi-modal container shipments to assure that the FMC and the Shipping Act apply to the complete international transit of goods from origin to destination
  • Provide public support for and any necessary resources towards the activities the FMC is undertaking on this issue, including the Interpretive Rule on Demurrage and Detention and other enforcement and administrative actions

Among the groups signing the letter were the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), Consumer Brands Association (CBA), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), United Fresh, US Meat Export Federation (USMEF), North American Meat Institute (NAMI), and USA Rice.

Posted 21 October 2021 by Richard Morrison, Writer/Editor, IHS Markit

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