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New law takes aim at those who refuse to open up cargo space in U.S. ports

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are all paying more for everything from toilet paper to cars, in part because of increased shipping costs.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Rising demand during the pandemic clogged the supply chain at sea, and the White House says that pushed up some ocean-going shipping costs from Asia to the U.S. by as much as 1,000%.

INSKEEP: Whoa. So Congress passed and President Biden signed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. Zippy Duvall stood next to the president as he signed it. He heads the American Farm Bureau Federation.

ZIPPY DUVALL: There is price gouging, and that definitely put farmers at a disadvantage because once they got that product there, paying that kind of cost of moving it, then they couldn't be competitive on the market.

MARTIN: Duvall is a third-generation farmer who grows hay and raises cows and chickens in Georgia.

DUVALL: All the things that I have to buy to fertilize my grasses, to make them grow, to produce forage for my animals, equipment, tractors, labor - all that has increased many times. When you put your heart and soul into growing a crop or taking care of animals to be able to put it out to nourish the world, and then there is not enough opportunity to send that crop out to the mouths and people that need it - it's really deteriorating to the morale of our farmers.

INSKEEP: So the law takes aim at carriers or terminal operators who unreasonably refuse to open up available cargo space. Some ports have been clogged, as we've reported in the past. Market analyst Cathy Roberson says it requires the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate exorbitant late fees on importers and exporters.

CATHY ROBERSON: If a shipper can't pick up a container because there's not a truck driver available - something that's out of their hands - this law is to help protect them from these detention and demerge fees.

MARTIN: Roberson says these fees are often passed on to the buyer. But she says this law may not do what the Biden administration hoped - cut prices for consumers.

ROBERSON: This is all fine and dandy, but there's a lot more involved in supply chains. There's a lot of folks in the federal government that really don't understand how supply chains operate from manufacturing all the way to our front door. This isn't going to help lower inflation whatsoever. The Consumer Price Index figures the majority of the increase has been attributed to energy cost.

MARTIN: The Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 is the first revision to maritime legislation in more than 20 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.