Bipartisan Backing of Jones Act


September 2016


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SIU President Michael Sacco is encouraged by strong bipartisan support of the Jones Act


Considering both the importance of the Jones Act to SIU members and the fact that the nation’s freight cabotage law regularly comes under attack, it was refreshing recently to see a bipartisan, proactive outreach standing up for this vital regulation.


In mid-August, four members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to the newly formed Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico. The letter was signed by Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-California), chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation; John Garamendi (D-California), ranking member on the subcommittee; Randy Forbes (R-Virginia), chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces; and Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut), ranking member on the subcommittee.


The letter’s details are important, but the short version is that the congressmen urged the task force not to waste time scrutinizing the Jones Act’s effect on Puerto Rico – not because it isn’t crucial, but because it’s already been done. And the findings are that the law is very beneficial to the commonwealth.


In part, the four representatives wrote, “Based on our review over many years of issues related to the U.S. maritime industry, national sealift needs and port security initiatives, we do not believe a review of the Jones Act by the task force, on which neither our committees nor our subcommittees are represented, is necessary.”


They continued by pointing out that the Jones Act “protects good U.S. jobs, provides jobs and industrial skills needed to support U.S. defense sealift, and provides a network of U.S. mariners who are on the water and provide a knowledgeable first line of defense in our efforts to keep our trade ports and harbors secure.”


Then, they explained in detail (if questions arise about the Jones Act, and since misinformation about the law is being disseminated) how Puerto Rico benefits from it. They referred to a non-partisan, Government Accountability Office (GAO) study which found that the domestic maritime industry provides “reliable, on-time service” and “just in time” delivery to the island.


“Many Puerto Rican importers rely on this ‘prompt and regular shipping’ to avoid warehousing and inventory costs, which are particularly high in Puerto Rico, according to the GAO,” the letter stated. “The agency further opined that changes to the Jones Act in Puerto Rico could undermine the crucial northbound service from Puerto Rico to the mainland. And, of course, the last thing Puerto Rico needs now is the disruption of its shipping or the outsourcing of its shipping jobs to other nations.”


Of particular note, they pointed out, is the fact that shipping rates to Puerto Rico on Jones Act vessels from the mainland are the lowest in the region. If any Jones Act critics are reading this column, let that data sink in for a minute. In fact, shipping rates from the U.S. to Puerto Rico on Jones Act ships are the lowest in the Caribbean, they said, comparing them to those of foreign-flag vessels.


The congressmen gave other sound reasons for a hands-off approach. They mentioned that the GAO found changes to the Jones Act in Puerto Rico could undermine national security. They pointed out that the current, massive, private-sector investments related to Jones Act shipping benefit the commonwealth.


I applaud this proactive approach and its persuasiveness. In the SIU, we know the Jones Act helps maintain our jobs and those of other mariners. We know it’s vital to maintaining a domestic shipbuilding capability, and also critical for national and homeland security. And we know that it helps contribute billions of dollars each year to the U.S. economy.


Further, we understand that it isn’t protectionist. It is sound policy, which explains why dozens of other nations have their own versions of the Jones Act.


Not everyone on Capitol Hill has that same understanding, which is why the bipartisan letter is so timely and important.


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