U.S. President Joe Biden met Wednesday at the White House with shipping companies, mega-retailers and unions to announce steps aimed at unblocking supply chain bottlenecks, a bid the White House hopes will boost what may well be America's real favorite pastime: shopping.
"Today, we have an important announcement that will get things you buy to you, to the shelves, faster," Biden said, announcing a number of moves aimed at not only feeding the American appetite for shopping, but also at enriching the global economy that feeds that hunger.
Those moves include a shift by the nation's two largest ports to operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a pledge from companies such as Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Samsung, Target and The Home Depot to increase their hours of operation and make more use of ports and transport networks during off-peak hours.
Between those six businesses, the White House said, more than 3,500 additional containers full of products that Americans want — such as toys, furniture, bicycles and appliances — will be added to the U.S. supply chain through the end of the year.
How one of the world's biggest shopping nations got here is partly a simple story of supply and demand, officials said. Electronic commerce was 39% higher in the first quarter of 2021 than the previous year, as Americans stayed in, logged on and clicked "buy."
A number of industries have experienced difficulties obtaining materials and getting finished products on store shelves because of challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, labor shortages and spikes in consumer demand.
Meanwhile, pandemic restrictions around the globe shut down vital ports, including some of the world's busiest. While the White House has said this initiative is aimed at also helping global supply chains, the president highlighted the need for the U.S. to surge ahead of its competitors.
"Never again should our country and our economy be unable to make critical products we need because we don't have access to materials to make that product," Biden said.
"I've said before, in the competition for the 21st century, we are America. We still have the most productive workforce and the most innovative minds in the world. But the rest of the world is closing in, and we risk losing our edge if we don't step up," he added.
Among those taking part in Wednesday's talks were representatives from some of the retailers, the Port of Los Angeles and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told U.S. broadcast network CBS that while price increases have come with the combination of lower supply and increased demand, they are not expected to be permanent, but they will not go away in the next month or two.
"This is an unprecedented shock to the global economy," Yellen said in an interview broadcast Tuesday. "It's led to a huge shift in demand away from services toward goods, and it's created huge bottlenecks in supply chains."
The administration stressed that the government can't force private industry to make the needed changes. But Biden encouraged more retailers to join them.
"Today's announcement has the potential to be a game-changer," Biden said. "I say 'potential' because all of these goods won't move by themselves. For the positive impact to be felt all across the country and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who ordered the goods, and the freight movers who take the goods from the ships to factories and the stores, to step up, as well."
The six major companies who made pledges on Wednesday did not release statements on their exact plans.
VOA's Chris Hannas contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.