Biden vows to tackle competition issues in liner shipping

President Joe Biden will shortly order American transportation agencies to address competition in rail and shipping, as shippers struggle with sky high freight rates.

Biden’s executive order will tap the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to come up with solutions.

The order will ask the FMC to take all possible steps to protect American exporters from the high costs imposed by the ocean carriers and to crack down on unjust and unreasonable fees, including detention and demurrage charges. Demurrage and detention charges imposed on shippers by containerlines have more than doubled over the past year.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Biden will direct the FMC to crack down on “unjust and unreasonable fees” in the ocean shipping industry and work with the Justice Department to investigate anticompetitive practices.

Paradoxically, the Biden directive is expected not to look into Jones Act operators, with the president a supporter of the ruling that prioritises US tonnage.

The STB, meanwhile, will be tasked with taking long-standing measures to increase competition where the railroad is monopolised, including so-called “competitive switching rules” which require a monopoly railway to grant access to its railroad under certain conditions.

Container shipping spot rates on the Shanghai – Los Angeles route soared $466 this week to stand at a record $9,631 for a feu, which is 229% higher than same period in 2020, latest data from Drewry shows.

Other nations, including China, Vietnam and South Korea, have also looked into tackling high shipping costs over the past year.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Where was the Federal govt when all but a few US flag carriers either crashed and burned, or were acquired/absorbed by foreign interests? Where was the federal govt when the world carriers were losing BILLION$$$ just a few yeas ago?

    The law of Supply and Demand bites both ways, and oh so briefly, because is not biting the carriers for a change, we have to change the rules???


  2. Build more ports or build more ships. That’s the only way out of this one.

    Any price fixing or attempts to cover up the symptoms while ignoring the underlying causes will cause bigger issues than they fix. Also, before the recent spike rates were in a decade-long slump. Feels like economies may have gotten addicted to cheap rates.

  3. I note the USA is not asking why the SCA was allowed to blackmail the UK Club?
    As intimated, the Jones Act is the total antithesis of competition but the USA somehow can’t understand that.
    Are not many of the beneficial owners of said containerships in the USA and taking advantage of cheap foreign crews?
    Is not the current situation a short lived spike in the extremely cyclical word of shipping?

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