Biden seeking to boost rail, sea shipping competition -White House

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By David Shepardson

© Reuters/Lucy Nicholson Shipping containers sit on train tracks downtown as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Angeles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden will order U.S. transportation agencies to crack down on anti-competitive conduct and unjust fees in the rail and sea shipping industries to try to lower costs to consumers, the White House said on Thursday.

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Biden will deliver remarks at 1:30 p.m. and sign an “executive order on promoting competition in the American economy,” the administration said. The order is expected to include dozens of provisions to boost competition, officials said.

The White House said one part of the president’s wide-ranging executive order is aimed at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and the Surface Transportation Board (STB).

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that shipping costs had risen dramatically during the months of the pandemic.

The order will urge the STB “to allow shippers to more easily challenge inflated rates when there is no competition between two routes.”

Biden will urge 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,” the White House said.

The Association of American Railroads said on Thursday that “competition remains fierce across freight providers” and warned some proposed reforms would put railroads, “an environmentally friendly option that invests $25 billion annually in infrastructure – at an untold disadvantage.”

Railroad stocks fell on the news, including CSX Corp, Kansas City Southern and Norfolk Southern Corp, which were all down more than 6%.

Biden’s executive order, meant to foster competition throughout the economy, will include measures ranging from making it easier for farmers to repair their own tractors to requiring airlines to refund baggage fees for delayed luggage.

Reuters first reported some plans for the executive order last week and the White House has since rolled out additional proposals.

Transport costs for shipping goods have soared 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,” a source told Reuters earlier.

The executive order will also address noncompete agreements for workers, licensing requirements, defense contracts, cell phones, agriculture and antitrust enforcement.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)

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