Congress ‘must restore fairness’ at ports for American exporters as new legislation kicks off

Port of Los Angeles, California, USA - April 27, 2022: image of container ship NYK Joanna shown arriving on a sunny day with blue sky.

Two Californian Congressmen have introduced legislation to benefit US exporters following unprecedented supply chain disruption across the nation.

Representatives Jim Costa (CA-16) and John Garamendi (CA-03) introduced H.R. 8243 – American Port Access Privileges Act, aiming to build on the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 signed by President Biden on 16 June.

The Act would ensure fair trade for US businesses in accessing foreign markets to, for example, California’s agricultural exporters, Costa and Garamendi wrote in a statement.

The Act would look to ensure fairer trade through:

  • Codifying the current preferences for military, Jones Act, and other US-flagged vessels in place at many major American ports.
  • Establishing a secondary berthing preference for ocean-going commercial vessels servicing multiple ports in the United States or with significant cargo bookings of American exports. The new preferential berthing will reward ocean carriers that serve both importers and American exporters by moving those vessels to the front of the queue for unloading and loading. It will similarly incentivise ocean carriers to make second-leg voyages to ports like the Port of Oakland.
  • Ensuring that the new preferential berthing for export carrying-vessels would never interfere with U.S. Coast Guard orders for commercial vessels, port safety, or collective bargaining agreements for port workers.
  • Requiring that export-carrying vessels seeking preferential berthing report cargo bookings at least seven days in advance to port operators.
  • Authorising the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics to collect data on berthing and cargo practices at U.S. ports. This will evaluate ocean carriers’ practices for port calls and cargo bookings, as well as the impact of preferential berthing afforded under the bill.

The pandemic-led surge in e-commerce demand has led to a growth in imports for goods from the Far East, reducing availability for American exporters to ship goods with trading partners.

The legislation will aim to “provide opportunities” for American exports in return, Congressman Costa wrote.

“Supply chain disruptions are hurting California farmers and exporters like never before. We need to remove bottlenecks and mitigate congestion at our ports to carry out American exports like the food grown in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Costa.

Garamendi added: “Foreign exporters’ access to the American market and our consumers is a privilege, not a right. Cargo ships looking to offload foreign-made products and profit off West Coast ports must provide opportunities for American exports in return. Congressman Costa’s and my legislation would put American exports at the front of the line at our ports to support American businesses and workers.

“Congress must restore fairness at our ports for American exporters to help reduce the United States’ longstanding trade imbalance with countries like China.”

Congestion in terminals and inland supply routes has attracted the attention of US Federal Government: in December 2021 the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration awarded $12.6 million in grants to nine highway projects across the nation.

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