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Over 100 Members of the House Send Letter to Address Carriers Declining to Ship U.S. Agriculture Exports from U.S. Ports

March 10, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressmen Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Jim Costa (D-CA) today along with Rodney Davis (R-IL), John Garamendi (D-CA), Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Troy Nehls (R-TX), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA), led a bipartisan group of colleagues in a letter to Michael A. Khouri, Chair of the Federal Maritime Commission, voicing concern over reports that certain vessel-operating common carriers (VOCCs) are declining to ship U.S. agricultural commodity exports from U.S. ports.

VOCCs serve as an integral link between American producers and overseas customers, without which contracts cannot be met and the ability to compete in or even access foreign markets is threatened.

Read the full letter here.

“Our nation’s agriculture industry feeds the world, which is why agricultural exports are so critical to not only getting food on the dinner table, but to the livelihood of producers,” said Rep. Adrian Smith. “These troubling reports of VOCCs refusing to ship U.S. exports at our ports must be investigated swiftly, and have consequences if misconduct is revealed. This issue does not stop just at our ports on the coast, it also poses a dangerous threat all along the supply chain of perishable products that begin across the Midwest in states like Nebraska.”

“California is a leading exporter of agricultural commodities, totaling over $42 billion in annual receipts,” said Rep. Jim Costa. “It is critical that we resolve supply chain issues so our producers can quickly ship healthy, nutritious food around the world. Food is a national security issue and we cannot allow for disruptions to this system. This letter sends a strong bipartisan message to quickly investigate and resolve any issues that impact our economy and ability to feed the world.”

“International trade and export markets are a major source of income for American farmers and producers,” said Rep. Rodney Davis. “That’s why reports of VOCCs declining to ship American agricultural products are so concerning. These supply chain issues may create financial problems for Illinois farmers and agricultural companies at a time when they need certainty and stability more than ever. I urge the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate these reports so we can find out if regulatory action needs to be taken.”

“Access to the American market and its consumers is a privilege, not a right,” said Rep. John Garamendi. “California’s agricultural exporters and other businesses are willing to pay to ensure that American-made products reach markets in the Asia-Pacific. In turn, companies looking to offload foreign-made products at American ports must provide opportunities for American exports. Even during a global pandemic, trade must be mutually beneficial, and I expect the Federal Maritime Commission to resolve these issues and ensure that is the case.”

“Market access is only as good as the access to shipping infrastructure,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson. “Once again, China is participating in unfair trade practices, prioritizing empty shipping containers over U.S. agriculture products. America’s farmers work hard to produce a high quality product, and we can’t allow China to shut them out of the market.”

“Every day the Commission further delays their findings, more American farmers struggle to stay afloat,” said Rep. Troy Nehls. “Our farmers simply cannot afford to wait any longer. The Commission must expeditiously identify and address all predatory and biased behaviors by VOCCs so American exporters can reach overseas customers without delay.”

“Purposefully not shipping U.S. products from our nation’s ports poses a serious threat to our agriculture industry on the central coast of California,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta. “While I am grateful for the effort by the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate this issue, more needs to be done to ensure a fair and equitable resolution, so that products continue to be exported on a timely basis.  My district is home to one of our nation’s most productive agricultural regions where businesses rely on a consistent flow of products internationally. With this letter, my congressional colleagues and I are calling on the Commission to do more to end these types of unacceptable practices by certain vessel-operating common carriers.”

“Our California and American agricultural producers need our support, particularly right now during the Coronavirus pandemic and I’m concerned about reports that certain vessel-operating common carriers are refusing to ship American agricultural products, potentially harming our producers,” said Rep. Mike Thompson. “That’s why I joined with my bipartisan colleagues calling on the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate this issue and bring relief to our agriculture producers.”

Over the past year, American producers, exporters, and entire economic sectors have grappled with widespread delays, bottlenecks, and increasing fees at our ports. These challenges are exacerbated by reports that VOCCs are delivering shipments to U.S. ports and then electing to leave without refilling empty containers with American goods for export. Such activity constricts entire supply chains and propels trade to move only in an inbound direction.

In March 2020, the Federal Maritime Commission launched Fact Finding No. 29, “International Ocean Transportation Supply Chain Engagement,” to investigate all the congestion, bottlenecks, and fees seen at our ports. In November, Fact Finding No. 29 was expanded to include reports of the decline to ship American exports.