Biden to take aim at rail, sea shipping competition -source

Shipping containers sit on train tracks downtown as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will order U.S. transportation agencies in coming days to address competition in rail and sea shipping in an effort to lower the costs of shipping goods for companies, a source familiar with the plan told Reuters on Thursday.

Biden’s executive order, aimed at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), is also aimed at ultimately helping to lower consumer prices, the source said.

The order will ask the STB to consider long-standing measures to increase competition where the railroad is monopolized, including so-called “competitive switching rules” which require a monopoly railway to grant access to its railroad under certain conditions.

It also urges 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.”

The Association of American Railroads said Thursday “competition remains fierce across freight providers, and any proposal mandating forced switching would put railroads – an environmentally friendly option that invests $25 billion annually in infrastructure – at an untold disadvantage.”

Biden’s wide ranging executive order addressing competition throughout the U.S. economy first is expected to be released as early as Friday and will push for everything from making it easier for farmers to repair their own tractors to new rules to require airlines to refund baggage fees for delayed luggage.

Reuters first reported the planned executive order last week but the White House has continued to rollout additional proposals in recent days.

Transport costs for shipping goods have continued to soar during the COVID-19 pandemic at a time of growing consolidation in transportation markets.

The forthcoming executive order “encourages the independent federal agencies regulating these markets to take steps to promote competition – which will save American businesses money on shipping costs. That, in turn, will lower prices for American consumers,” the source said.

Biden’s executive order will also cover other issues addressing noncompete agreements for workers, licensing requirements, Defense contracts, cell phones, agriculture and antitrust enforcement. read more

Reporting by David Shepardson; writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Alex Richardson/Mark Heinrich/Kirsten Donovan, William Maclean

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