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June 27, 2022

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Ocean Shipping Reform Act will have little impact on Port of Vancouver

New law aims to address issues faced by facilities dealing with containers

By , Columbian staff writer
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Work continues at United Grain Corporation on the Port of Vancouver campus on Sept. 30, 2019. The Columbia River serves a vital role in grain exports, making it the leading gateway for the product, according to U.S. Wheat Associates.
Work continues at United Grain Corporation on the Port of Vancouver campus on Sept. 30, 2019. The Columbia River serves a vital role in grain exports, making it the leading gateway for the product, according to U.S. Wheat Associates. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Consumers and exporters both saw financial turmoil from tumultuous international shipping antics in the past year. But the Port of Vancouver was not impacted like other regional harbors were.

Now, for the latter ports, there is legislation that can ease these ramifications and prevent future challenges from emerging.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. — co-chair of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee — co-sponsored the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, signed into law June 16, which addresses rising freight costs and congestion.

“Right now, the supply chain isn’t working. Our ports have been clogged, shipping companies have struggled to keep up with demand, and the costs of American exporters — who are trying to get hay, milk and apples to the global market — have gone through the roof,” Cantwell said in March on the Senate floor after the bill was approved.

The legislators who introduced the bill — Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Thune, R-S.D. — said it will mitigate supply chain backlogs while addressing international ocean shipping costs.

The Columbia River is a rich vein for regional commerce, as it’s lined with multiple ports that export products for global trade. It’s a prominent gateway for grain exports and moves millions of tons of cargo every year, according to U.S. Wheat Associates. The Washington State Department of Agriculture reported that the state’s grown and processed exports totaled $7.7 billion in 2021, making Washington a trade-dependent state.

Not all Washington ports were impacted by the legislation, though. The Port of Vancouver is a bulk port that ships products that don’t fit into normal containers, said Therese Lang, Port of Vancouver director of communication. Harbors that ship containers — such as those in Seattle, Tacoma or Portland — benefit more from the new regulations because they experienced considerable backlogs and storage issues.

“The Port of Vancouver USA does not anticipate any changes in operations due to the new Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022,” Lang said. “We feel our current practices will meet or exceed the new regulations developed by the Federal Marine Commission, and we will adapt to any unforeseen regulations appropriately.”

Specifically, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act provides the Federal Maritime Commission, a federal agency overseeing ocean transportation, tools to improve its management of international ocean carriers.

Under the new law, ocean carriers must certify that late fees comply with federal regulations, shifting the burden of proof from the complainant to the carrier. Shippers are now prohibited from unjustifiably rejecting American exports, and they must report how many empty containers are transported into the U.S.

The legislation gave the federal agency greater authority over shipping exchanges and enabled it to conduct investigations of a carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures when necessary.

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