From the Document: "Since summer 2020, U.S. overseas containerized trade has risen to record levels as the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led households to spend less on services such as vacation trips and restaurant meals and more on imported goods. The demand surge has resulted in transport delays, higher freight rates, and increased tension between shippers and ocean carriers over ancillary fees and the availability of containers. These controversies have drawn attention to the role of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), a federal agency with jurisdiction over ports and ocean shipping. [...] Two FMC commissioners recently reminded liner carriers about their 'common carrier obligation,' under which they may not 'unreasonably refuse to deal or negotiate' (46 U.S.C. [United States Code] §41104(a)(10)). This reminder followed complaints by exporters of low-value agricultural goods that ocean carriers are not supplying them with enough empty containers to ship their goods. The exporters are seeking FMC's assistance in obtaining firmer commitments from carriers regarding container supply. Because the United States imports more containerized goods than it exports, the ocean rates for exports are much lower than for imports. In the number of days it takes for a U.S. exporter to load a container and for the purchaser of the goods in Asia to unload the container, a carrier could return the container empty to Asia and have the container start earning the much higher Asia-to-United States freight revenue. This may be a consideration when container supply becomes tight."
CRS In Focus, IF11852
Congressional Research Service: https://crsreports.congress.gov/