Rep. Jimmy Panetta joins President Biden for signing of shipping reform bill

SALINAS — Bipartisan legislation that officials say will put the interests of American farmers first, help curb inflation and ease export backlogs was signed by President Joe Biden, who was joined by Rep. Jimmy Panetta on Thursday.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act has been championed by Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, over the past few months and will provide the Federal Maritime Commission with tools to protect U.S. businesses, consumers and farmers while addressing America’s longstanding trade imbalance with China and other countries.

“Certain practices by foreign and international shipping companies have contributed to the high cost of food for Americans,” said Panetta in a press release. “The bipartisan Ocean Shipping Reform Act will help lower prices for families in our communities and remove excessive shipping fees faced by farmers all across the country. I’m proud to have helped push this bill over the finish line, and look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and the President to tackle inflation.”

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act passed the Senate with unanimous support via voice vote and in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.

The act gives the Federal Maritime Commission the power to investigate late fees charged by carriers while prohibiting ocean carriers and marine terminals from refusing to fill available cargo space.

“These carriers made $190 billion in profit in 2021, seven times higher than the year before,” said Biden in a story by the Associated Press. “The cost got passed on, as you might guess, directly to consumers, sticking it to American families and businesses because they could.”

Panetta’s office said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, American consumers increased their online purchases, resulting in port congestion that left exporters, including American farmers, struggling to get their products to global markets. This occurred because of ocean carriers denying American cargo and skyrocketing freight costs. Shipping rates for a 40-foot container went from $1,300 prior to the pandemic, up to $11,000 by September 2021.

Biden also stressed that a concentration of corporate shipping power in the hands of just nine large and foreign-owned companies has fed higher shipping costs in ways that hurt businesses and exacerbate problems with inflation.

Highlights of the legislation include the tools and capabilities to stop international ocean carriers from unreasonably declining American cargo, as determined by the Federal Maritime Commission in new required rulemaking, direct the commission to self-initiate investigations of ocean carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures, shift the burden of proof regarding overcharging certain fees, called “demurrage and detention” charges, from the complainant to the international ocean carriers to help level the playing field and improve the Federal Maritime Commission’s enforcement capacity, improve transparency of movement of U.S. agricultural and other exports by requiring international ocean carriers to report to the commission regarding how many empty containers are being transported and stop the retaliation by international shipping companies against exporters and importers.

Contributed by local news sources

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