DOJ, Federal Maritime Commission to Cooperate on Antitrust Enforcement in Ocean Shipping Industry

March 3, 2022

In his March 1, 2022 State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden again emphasized his commitment to increased competition — this time directing attention to the ocean shipping industry. In support of this commitment, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced this week new steps to share resources for antitrust-related enforcement.

The FMC, which regulates international ocean shipping, will now give DOJ’s Antitrust Division “support and maritime industry expertise for Sherman Act and Clayton Act enforcement actions,” and the Antitrust Division will provide the FMC with attorney and economist support to enforce the Shipping Act and related statutes. This announcement also coincides with the introduction of proposed legislation, with bipartisan sponsorship, aimed at repealing federal laws that provide certain antitrust exemptions for ocean carriers.

In comments at a shipping conference this week, FMC Chair Daniel Maffei emphasized that, although the agency to date had found “no evidence” of actionable antitrust behavior in the ocean shipping industry, the FMC would be increasing reporting requirements and “deepening” its analysis of the industry. As reported by Bloomberg, Maffei pegged recent shipping rate increases to jumps in U.S. demand. He shared that “the ocean carriers on the whole are, in fact, moving many more containers than pre-pandemic.”

These announcements are the latest in a series of actions implementing stricter antitrust enforcement stemming from President Biden’s July 9, 2021 executive order on competition. In another recent development, on Feb. 17, 2022, the DOJ Antitrust Division and FBI announced an initiative targeting collusion exploiting COVID-19-related supply-chain disruptions. Together, these initiatives signal expanded antitrust scrutiny of all aspects of the transportation industry.

These developments highlight the close and increasing scrutiny U.S. antitrust enforcers are giving to the transportation sector. McGuireWoods’ team of skilled antitrust attorneys, as well as its cross-disciplinary network of professionals with deep experience in the transportation industry, will continue to monitor these initiatives.