U.S. Senate approves bill to ease export shipping backlogs

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WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill to improve oversight of ocean shipping, a step supporters say will help ease export backlogs.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act, led by Senators John Thune and Amy Klobuchar, would strengthen the investigatory authority of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), the U.S. agency that oversees ocean shipping, and boost transparency of industry practices.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation "will reduce costs for the American people, by reforming unfair shipping practices hurting exports and consumers alike."

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Schumer noted "supply chain backlogs have made it harder for goods to leave these ports and get to their international destination. Every single day that goods lie idle on our ports, it costs producers more and more money."

The legislation would prohibit ocean carriers from unreasonably declining opportunities for U.S. exports that would be determined by the FMC, which would write new rules.

It would also require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter "on total import/export tonnage" making port in the United States.

It would allow FMC to begin investigations of ocean common carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures.

Klobuchar said "Congestion at ports and increased shipping costs pose unique challenges for U.S. exporters, who have seen the price of shipping containers increase four-fold in just two years, raising costs for consumers and hurting our businesses."

Thune said the legislation would make "it harder for ocean carriers to unreasonably refuse goods that are ready to export at U.S. ports."

Similar legislation passed the U.S. House 364-60 in December but lawmakers must resolve differences before it can go to President Joe Biden.

On March 15, the White House unveiled a pilot information sharing effort to help clear supply chain bottlenecks at congested U.S. ports.

This month, the National Retail Federation said imports at major U.S. retail container ports are expected to be at near-record levels this spring and summer as consumer demand and supply chain challenges continue to spark congestion.

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Reporting by David Shepardson and Richard Cowan; Editing by David Gregorio

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