By Tim Blotz
The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a bill forcing ocean going shippers to prioritize American goods sitting at U.S. ports. The Ocean Shipping Reform Act sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and South Dakota Republic John Thune received the rare support of every member of the Senate.
"This is really a shot against the bow toward the foreign owned shipping conglomerates," said Sen. Klobuchar in an interview with FOX 9. "And we're basically saying to them, you guys have been ripping off farmers in Minnesota. You've been ripping off small businesses, manufacturers, you've been ripping off consumers because so much of our increase in prices right now is due to these supply chain problems."
"I’m glad the Senate unanimously passed this important legislation that would level the playing field for American farmers, exporters, and consumers by making it harder for ocean carriers to unreasonably refuse goods that are ready to export at U.S. ports," said Sen. Thune in a statement.
Lawmakers have accused foreign-owned shipping companies during the pandemic of sailing out of U.S. ports with empty shipping containers. The Senate bill grants the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) more power to oversee cargo rates and force shipping companies to prioritize carrying U.S. goods when leaving American ports.
"What they were doing is they were leaving American made products on the dock," said Klobuchar. "They could have loaded it on the ship, but they wouldn't even take the minute to do that because they wanted to sail over to China as soon as possible and then come back with filled up boxes of Chinese products. And what we're putting in place now is a rule that saying they can't do that."
Klobuchar said the effort to grant the FMC more enforcement power had the support of every major port in the U.S. including the twin ports of Duluth and Superior.
"If you’re going to come to our ports, you've got to take our goods just like you take foreign goods and you've got to charge fair prices, which means significantly less prices for the containers than you've been doing now," said Klobuchar.
The U.S. House of representatives has already passed a similar bill with overwhelming bipartisan support and Klobuchar believes both chambers will quickly resolve differences and send the bill to President Joe Biden.
While it may take a year for the FMC to draft and implement the enforcement rules, Klobuchar says the nearly full support of Congress should send a strong message to the shipping industry.
"I don't think that they will use that pending year to rip more people off. I think they're going to have to get their act together and they're going to have to put our stuff in the containers," said Klobuchar.