Biden Signs Cantwell-Championed Ocean Shipping Reform Act, Boosting Washington State’s $22 Billion Agricultural Export Economy

Act will strengthen the maritime supply chain and protect Washington farmers and exporters from shipping companies’ unfair practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed President Biden’s signing of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA). As Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Cantwell co-sponsored the bill and acted fast to shepherd its passage through the Commerce Committee to combat rising shipping costs faced by Washington farmers, agricultural exporters, and consumers.

Sen. Cantwell joined President Biden for the bill signing ceremony. She released the following statement:

“Today marks a significant step forward in our effort to lower costs facing consumers,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Our bill will ensure that our farmers can get their products to the global marketplace, and will provide the Federal Maritime Commission the tools it needs to crack down on exorbitant fees that hike up shipping costs. With President Biden’s signature, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act will level the playing field between big international shipping lines and American businesses and consumers.”

Last year, Washington state exported nearly $22 billion in agricultural products, and more than $14 billion of those products relied on maritime shipping to get to market. Over one third of those Washington state exports, valued at $7.7 billion, were grown or processed in the state.

On March 18th, Sen. Cantwell spoke with Washington state growers at the Port of Seattle to discuss the impacts of the Ocean Shipping Reform act and announced a new pop-up storage facility to help reduce delays, operational hurdles, and costs for Washington growers to help boost exports.

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is charged with protecting the interests of U.S. businesses that rely on ocean transportation under the Shipping Act, which was last amended in 1998. The bipartisan Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 will level the playing field for American exporters and importers by providing the FMC the tools it needs for effective oversight of international ocean carriers. These oversight and enforcement tools will help the FMC eliminate unfair charges, prevent unreasonable denial of American exports, and crack down on other unfair practices harming American businesses and consumers.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act will:

  • Stop international ocean carriers from unreasonably declining American cargo, as determined by the FMC in new required rulemaking.
  • Direct the FMC to self-initiate investigations of ocean carriers’ 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 FMC’s enforcement capacity.
  • Improve transparency of movement of U.S. agricultural and other exports by requiring international ocean carriers to report to the FMC regarding how many empty containers are being transported.
  • Stop retaliation by international shipping companies against exporters and importers.
  • Formally establish the FMC Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services to improve the complaint and investigation process for American businesses seeking assistance from the FMC.
  • Improve management of chassis, the specialized trailer used to transport ocean containers over the road, by authorizing the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to collect data on dwell times for chassis and include a National Academy of Sciences study on best practices of chassis management.
  • Provide the FMC with temporary emergency authority to collect data during times of emergency congestion, among other improvements.

Port congestion that began during the COVID-19 pandemic left exporters, including American farmers, struggling to get their products to global markets because of unpredictable sailings, ocean carriers denying American cargo, and skyrocketing freight costs. For example, shipping rates for a 40-foot container went from $1,300 before the pandemic, up to $11,000 by September 2021. Shipping costs continue to increase. This week, shipping costs remain 41% higher globally compared to this time last year.

A one-page explainer of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act and a list of bill supporters is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available HERE.

After the House passage of the OSRA, Sen. Cantwell released the following statement linked HERE.

Sen. Cantwell spoke on the Senate floor immediately after the Senate passed the OSRA in March: “Right now, the supply chain isn't working. Our ports have been clogged, shipping companies have struggled to keep up with demand, and the cost of American exporters, who are trying to get hay, milk, and apples to the global market, have gone through the roof,” said Sen. Cantwell. “It is hurting our consumers here at home as I see prices increase, and hurting our exporters when they're looking at products they are trying to get to market.”

Sen. Cantwell continued, “American exporters and their products are being left on the docks, and that's why we wanted to act quickly, because the American farmer, with growing season upon us, can't afford to wait another minute for the Federal Maritime Commission to do it’s job and help police this market…getting this legislation on to the president's desk could not be more important.”

At the March 3, 2022 hearing to examine the legislation, Sen. Cantwell said, “We are going to fight for these shippers who need to get their product to international markets, and as a very trade dependent state, I will make this the biggest priority of this Committee, if it's what it takes.”

On March 22, Sen. Cantwell led an executive session of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to advance the Act.

Sen. Cantwell has consistently championed Washington’s ports and coauthored the 2019 legislation that reauthorized U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP).

Most recently, the program was reauthorized in the 2021 National Defense Reauthorization Act, a provision authored by Cantwell. As Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Cantwell worked to include a record $2.25 billion for the program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and in September 2021, Cantwell led a letter calling for increased funding for the PIDP program to help address the ongoing issues with port congestion.

Video of Sen.  Cantwell’s March 31st floor speech is available HERE, audio HERE, and a transcript HERE.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s floor remarks from March 23, 2022 is available HERE, and full transcript HERE.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s opening statement from the March 22, 2022 executive session is available HERE and a transcript is available HERE.

Video of the March 18, 2022 USDA pop-up port announcement is available HERE, audio is available HERE, and a full transcript is available HERE.

Video of Sen.  Cantwell’s opening statement from the March 3rd hearing to examine the Ocean Shipping Reform Act is available HERE, audio is available HERE, and a transcript is available HERE.