Support on and off Capitol hill is building for legislation that would help U.S. ag commodities get to foreign buyers despite bottlenecks at some of the biggest U.S. ports.

Congress often moves slowly, but Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., now says he believes there’s a 50-50 chance that the House will be able to approve the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021 in the waning weeks of this year.

The bill seeks to stop Chinese exporters from paying ocean carrier companies to return containers empty instead of filling up with U.S. Asian-bound goods.

“Two hundred and twenty national organizations have endorsed our bill and I think we’ve got better than a coin-flip chance of getting it done yet this year,” Johnson said Wednesday during remarks at the Midwest Agricultural Export Summit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Explaining the bill, Johnson said international shipping companies that use American ports would have to “assume some very basic common carrier obligations, including not unfairly discriminating against American ag exports.”

Johnson and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., introduced the bill in August and more than 100 ag groups and companies expressed their support immediately. The Agriculture Transportation Coalition said this summer that about 22% of U.S. agricultural exports can’t be completed because of shipping problems at ports.

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Johnson highlighted the plight of U.S. pork exporters trying to get their product on containers to ship to Asia, but exporters of U.S. poultry, rice, almonds, walnuts, and wine are also experiencing difficulty getting containers because of they are being returned empty.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., tells Agri-Pulse there is plenty of bipartisan support in the Senate for tackling problems at the ports and he would be open to considering authoring a companion bill for the House version.

“The supply chain issue is very real and not easily solved,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thune said he is working on separate legislation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to address the skyrocketing demurrage charges that U.S. exporters are contending with when containers sit at ports longer than expected because they cannot be loaded on ships.

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