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Meet the Federal Maritime Commission

Since President Biden signed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act into law, a little-known Washington institution has stepped into the spotlight, according to The New York Times (subscription).

  • The act gives the previously obscure Federal Maritime Commission “primary responsibility for taking on a major culprit in [President Biden’s] narrative on inflation.”
  • The measure was passed in response to ubiquitous supply chain bottlenecks and soaring shipping costs, according to the Times.

A tough job: Headed by former New York state Rep. Daniel B. Maffei, the small commission has been given a job that belies its size and relative obscurity: “Apply force to remedy what Mr. Biden describes as a ‘rip-off’ of American consumers.”

  • “Mr. Maffei acknowledges the difficulties of the terrain. ‘There is a rip-off,’ he says. ‘But explaining where the rip-off is doesn’t fit easily into a quick speech.’”

Who’s to blame? Maffei and the White House disagree about the cause of elevated shipping costs. Maffei does not believe they are the result of a monopoly by ocean carriers.

  • However, he says certain fees assessed by ocean carriers on U.S. importers—for shipping containers that go uncollected after goods are offloaded, for example—cannot be allowed to continue.

Game plan: “The commission has six months to write rules aimed at forcing shipping carriers to transport more American exports,” the Times reports.

  • “That’s a redress to complaints from farming interests that carriers have largely forsaken them, depriving them of a way to ship exports while giving priority to the more lucrative import trade.”

Already working: The new law is already having an effect, according to exporters, who say ocean carriers are now making more containers available at ports on the West Coast.

The last word: “The Federal Maritime Commission is moving quickly to implement core components of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, further proving the immense need that manufacturers and all shippers had for an updated regulatory structure to alleviate onerous demurrage and detention charges and simplify charge complaints,” said NAM Director of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy Ben Siegrist.

  • “We have been strongly and vocally advocating for these changes, among others, and applaud the agency’s quick actions. We’re already seeing progress in the way some parts of the marketplace interact, which is why we don’t intend to let up.”
  • “A fair and functional shipping supply chain is vital for manufacturers. We’ll continue to engage with the FMC and federal partners to lower costs, expand reliability and demand accountability across the system.”
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