(Bloomberg) -- The first major update of U.S. international ocean-shipping laws in more than two decades was introduced in the Senate Thursday, a significant step toward passage after passing the House with bipartisan support in December.

Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced the Ocean Shipping Reform Act Thursday, which they say will ease the problem of agricultural exports sitting at ports while ocean carriers return to Asia with empty containers.

“Congestion at ports and increased shipping costs pose unique challenges for U.S. exporters, who have seen the price of shipping containers increase four-fold in just two years. Meanwhile, ocean carriers have reported record profits,” Minnesota Democrat Klobuchar said in a statement. 

The House version of the bill, sponsored by California Democrat John Garamendi and North Dakota Republican Dusty Johnson, was approved by an overwhelming majority in December.

The measure gives the Federal Maritime Commission an updated toolbox to protect exporters, importers, and consumers from unfair practices, updating the watchdog’s authority to regulate the industry for the first time since 1998.

“For nearly two decades the Shipping Act has remained untouched, complicating supply chain disruption issues and adding to port congestion,” David French, National Retail Federation’ senior vice president of government relations, said in a statement. “We appreciate the work of Senators Klobuchar and Thune to expedite this critical legislation and look forward to supporting its swift consideration in the Senate and conference with the House.”

Unprecedented consumer demand -- coupled with a shortage of truck drivers and warehouse workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic -- has led to long queues for ships and piles of containers full of goods lingering at U.S. ports, especially at the West Coast gateway of Los Angeles and neighboring Long Beach, which together handle about 40% of the nation’s maritime cargo. 

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