U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of both the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, today urged the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to continue to investigate reports of unreasonable practices by ocean carriers, including refusal to carry certain agriculture products from U.S. ports back to Asia. The Thune, Klobuchar-led letter expressed support of the FMC’s current fact-finding efforts and asked that they take appropriate action against ocean carriers deemed necessary.
“The need is urgent, especially with record container volumes at the nation’s major ports. These volumes, and the resulting congestion, will only grow as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic,” the senators wrote. “Producers rely on competitive access to foreign markets, and the reported actions by certain VOCCs to undermine this access pose significant ramifications for agricultural exporters and the industry at large.”
Joining Thune and Klobuchar in sending the letter were Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Full text of the letter below:
The Honorable Michael Khouri
Federal Maritime Commission
800 North Capitol Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20573
Dear Chairman Khouri,
We write to express concern with the reported practices of certain vessel-operating common carriers (VOCCs) related to the denial of carriage for agricultural commodities. If the reports are true, such practices would be unreasonable, anticompetitive, and hurt millions of producers across the nation. We support the Federal Maritime Commission’s current efforts to investigate these reports, and call on the Commission to quickly resolve this critical issue.
As you know, ports across the United States are experiencing unprecedented congestion and record container volumes, which alone pose significant challenges for agricultural exporters seeking to deliver their products affordably and dependably to foreign markets. In the midst of this challenge, reports that certain VOCCs are returning to their origin with empty containers rather than accepting U.S. agriculture and forestry exports not only greatly exacerbates the problem, but potentially violates the Shipping Act as an unjust and unreasonable practice.
We understand that the Commission in March 2020 initiated Fact Finding No. 29 – led by Commissioner Rebecca Dye – which was expanded in November 2020 to investigate reports of potentially unjust and unreasonable practices by certain VOCCs discussed above. We support this investigative effort, and – in the event that unjust or unreasonable practices by certain VOCCs are discovered – urge the Commission to take appropriate enforcement actions under the Shipping Act to put an end to such practices.
The need is urgent, especially with record container volumes at the nation’s major ports. These volumes, and the resulting congestion, will only grow as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. Producers rely on competitive access to foreign markets, and the reported actions by certain VOCCs to undermine this access pose significant ramifications for agricultural exporters and the industry at large.
We look forward to reviewing the findings of Fact Finding No. 29 and other related FMC proceedings, and to working with the Commission to address this growing problem.