Often when we talk about our government relations action team (GRAT) and our advocacy efforts, it is always about works in progress. We focus on those issues that are at hand, and that need a resolution of some sort. Finally, we have the chance to discuss something we worked on that passed in both houses of Congress and was signed by the President. We get to celebrate one in the win column. We’re talking about the Ocean Shipping Reform Act (OSRA), legislation born out of the horrific supply chain issues our sector suffers to this day. While it may not provide immediate relief, it puts in place many key elements to protect manufacturers and retailers that shift the balance of power from ocean carriers in the long term.
Four notable pieces of the new law ensure ocean carriers can no longer:
- “unreasonably” refuse cargo space accommodations when available
- assess new fees that don’t comply with current regulations
- provide inaccurate invoices for demurrage or detention charges
- those late fees for holding cargo or assets beyond a contracted time period.
- Play favorites by giving some customers preference over others
The most significant change brought on by OSRA is the power given to the Federal Maritime Commission. The FMC now has a lot of latitude in regulating ocean shipping. They can define unfair practices, issue rules to prohibit them, and impose penalties or require refunds from violators. This will require more staff, so the new law boosts the FMC budget, starting with an injection of $32 million this year. The added monies will fund an Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services to provide support for resolving disputes, plus a website to file complaints.
HFA members who have felt powerless against the price hiking whims of ocean carriers now have an avenue for restitution. The FMC chairman told us that even before the ink has dried on this new law, they see a desire from ocean carriers to comply. The threat of oversight and punishment is proving to be persuasive.
There is more to the OSRA, and I suggest you review all of it. For now, however, I want to point out the importance and power of advocacy. Often we face an uphill climb in getting support from Washington, but with persistence and clarity of message it can happen. It just did.
To learn more about what HFA is doing to influence legislation that impacts our industry, click here.