Economic Indicators

U.S. House passes ocean shipping bill to allay export backlogs


FILE PHOTO: Stacked containers are shown as ships unload their cargo at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed on Monday legislation to improve oversight of ocean shipping, which supporters say will help curb inflation and ease export backlogs.

The bill passed 369-42 and will head to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature. Biden said in a statement he looked forward to signing it into law.

The bill would boost the investigatory authority of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC (NYSE:FMC)), the U.S. agency that oversees ocean shipping, and increase transparency of industry practices.

It would allow FMC to launch probes of ocean common carriers’ business practices and to apply enforcement measures, require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC «total import/export tonnage» each calendar quarter and would bar ocean carriers from unreasonably declining opportunities for U.S. exports under new rules to be determined by the FMC.

«Exorbitant shipping fees are driving up costs for small business and consumers while leaving urgently-needed products to wait on the dock,» House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act passed unanimously in the Senate in March. Similar legislation had passed the House 364-60 in December but lawmakers needed to resolve differences in the bills before it went to Biden to sign.

«Inflation is the greatest frustration America has right now, and backlogs at our ports are one of the biggest drivers of price hikes that we will address through this bill,» Schumer said on the Senate floor earlier on Monday.

Congress has few tools to combat inflation, which hit 8.6% in the 12 months through May, according to the U.S. consumer price index. Beyond the shipping bill, Democrats are also pushing measures to lower prescription drug prices to try to address the issue.

Imports in the nation’s major retail container ports are expected to reach near-record volume in June as retailers seek to meet consumer demand and protect themselves from disruptions in West Coast ports, the National Retail Federation said in a statement last week.

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