Navy League Sees Jones Act As Critical to Puerto Rico’s Economic, National Security


October 2015


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The nation’s freight cabotage law – and in particular its great value to Puerto Rico – recently received boosts from the Navy League of the United States and from the American Maritime Partnership (AMP).


In a letter sent to U.S. Congress leadership on Sept. 9, 2015, the Navy League addressed ranking members of the House Armed Services Committee, urging them to oppose any changes to the Jones Act in the event any legislation is considered to assist Puerto Rico during its economic crisis.


The Navy League set the record straight on false claims by Jones Act opponents that the law and the maritime industry are to blame for the Puerto Rican debt crisis. As the Navy League indicated in its letter, the Jones Act is critical for the island’s national and economic security.


“Exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act would undermine national security,” the letter noted. “The U.S.-mainland-to-Puerto-Rico trade is a major American non-contiguous shipping trade. Ironically, Puerto Rico soon will be served some of the most modern, state-of-the-art vessels in the American fleet. Exempting Puerto Rico and changing the rules in the middle of the game would cause a ripple effect that would impact the entire American shipping industry.”


The letter further pointed out that the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) “recently completed the most comprehensive study of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico ever and focused heavily on the impact on national security. GAO correctly noted that ‘the military strategy of the United States relies on the use of commercial U.S.-flag ships and crews and the availability of a shipyard industrial base to support national defense needs.’”


The letter came on the heels of recent news reports that have included statements by familiar opponents of American maritime who have sought to capitalize on the debt crisis and undermine an industry that for decades has provided consistent and reliable transport of goods to the people of Puerto Rico.


One week after the Navy League sent its letter, Tom Allegretti, chairman of AMP (a powerful coalition to which the SIU is affiliated), addressed attendees of the 2015 Tradewinds Jones Act Shipping Forum in New York about the overwhelming support for the Jones Act in Congress.


Allegretti remarked that the strong backing of the Jones Act trade is due to the industry’s longstanding positive impact on national, economic and homeland security, affirmatively noting that any attempt to include an amendment of the Jones Act in pending legislation is a “vote subtractor” that can hurt congressional progress.


He outlined why any connection between the Jones Act and a debt relief package in Congress would hurt the movement of the package.


“Some in Puerto Rico have suggested that a Jones Act exemption be included in the legislative package under the erroneous theory that the Jones Act is bad for Puerto Rico,” he said. “But here’s the kicker: If Congress did that – include an anti-Jones Act amendment in the package – the chances of the overall package getting enacted into law would diminish. That’s because the presence of an anti-Jones Act amendment would reduce or subtract the number of members of Congress who would vote for the overall bill. So Puerto Ricans would be undermining – and maybe even sabotaging – their own assistance package by including an anti-Jones Act amendment in it.”


The coalition chairman also mentioned an attempt earlier this year to repeal the U.S.- shipbuilding component of the Jones Act in the Senate.


“Ultimately, several weeks later, facing almost certain defeat, [Sen. John McCain] withdrew his amendment and did not offer it,” Allegretti recalled. “We believe his amendment would have failed overwhelmingly. Even Sen. McCain jokingly admitted that his strategy for repealing the Jones Act was to ‘pray to the patron saint of lost causes.’ In other words, there is no appetite in Congress to change the Jones Act.”


Last December, Congress enacted perhaps its strongest endorsement of the Jones Act in history in a resolution included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.


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