President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law the bipartisan Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which aims to establish new restrictions around how carriers may coordinate operations, prohibit shipping lines from “unreasonably” declining exports and limit added fees on container handling.
“This bill is going to help bring down inflation at least marginally for farmers and businesses all across America,” Biden said at the White House.
“And more than that, the bill is proof of what we can achieve when we work together on common ground — Democrats, Republicans and independents,” he added, noting the measure advanced in “an overwhelmingly bipartisan way.”
Biden has been calling for Congress to pass the measure and criticizing shipping companies.
Extra fees for transporting countless products are a hidden and mind-boggling source of inflation controlled by ocean carriers, said a ProPublica report on Thursday. The Federal Maritime Commission has been trying to crack down on fees and proposing tougher rules on carriers, and the Ocean Shipping Reform Act gives the commission more teeth, according to the report.
“One of the factors affecting prices is this: Nine major shipping companies, consolidated into three alliances, control the vast majority of ocean shipping in the world, and each of these nine is foreign-owned,” Biden said on Thursday. “During the pandemic, these carriers have increased their prices by as much as 1,000%.”
The World Shipping Council, a trade group whose members include Hapag-Lloyd
pushed back on Biden’s characterizations of the industry in a statement on Thursday.
The Federal Maritime Commission has found that “ocean carrier competition is ‘vigorous’ and that while ocean freight prices are high, they are ‘exacerbated by the pandemic, an unexpected and unprecedent surge in consumer spending particularly in the United States, and supply chain congestion, and are the product of the market forces of supply and demand,’” the shipping group said.
“The worn-out talking point that ‘there’s only nine major ocean shipping lines who ship from Asia to the United States’ is also untrue. While nine lines in and of itself is evidence of competition and not concentration, there are an additional thirteen ocean liner companies that operated over 30% of the sailings from Asia to the U.S so far this year.”
Christine McDaniel, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, tweeted on Wednesday that the measure “has noble aims of promoting growth, efficiency & competition within the industry, but the question is whether increased regulatory oversight can achieve them.”
“The good news is that the bill — created by lawmakers eager to be seen as ‘doing something’ in the eyes of frustrated constituents — gives @FMC_gov considerable leeway in how to enforce the legislation,” she added, referring to the Federal Maritime Commission.