Celebrating the Centennial of the Jones Act

2020 is the centennial of this seminal piece of legislation but its roots are in American legislation dating to the first U.S. Congress in 1789.  The Jones Act is critical to the U.S. economy and jobs, security of our waterways, and our manufacturing strength and it must be defended.

Section 27 of the 1920 Merchant Marine Act, generally referred to as the Jones Act, mandates that all cargo moving between U.S. points be carried in vessels that are crewed by, built by, and owned by Americans. Other laws and statutes apply some of the same basic ground rules to carrying passengers and flying between U.S. airports, for instance.

The U.S. is far from unique in reserving its domestic waterborne commerce to its domestic fleets. Eighty percent of the world’s coastlines of United Nations shipping nations have similar cabotage laws for their domestic maritime commerce.

Great Lakes states’ maritime industry, operating under the Jones Act, contribute 123,600 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $30 billion, 20 percent of the national economic impact.  Cabotage laws ensure the U.S. has the ships, skilled mariners, and shipyards needed to supply American troops during a national emergency.  The U.S. Navy terms the law “vital to our National Security.”  In addition, the presence of an American fleet provides important homeland security benefits.

Every Administration since 1920 has supported the Jones Act and it has strong bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress.

The Jones Act, first and foremost, guarantees that domestic waterborne commerce is carried in vessels built to the world's highest safety and environmental protection standards with crews whose skills and expertise are certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Further, by guaranteeing a level playing field among the various transportation modes, Great Lakes Jones Act operators have been able to assemble the world’s largest and most diverse fleet of self-unloading vessels without one penny of federal subsidies.  Great Lakes cargoes keep the mills producing steel for U.S.-made autos and appliances, the lights on throughout the lakes, workers on the job building U.S. infrastructure, and ensuring American grain makes it to American tables.

There are aspects to the Jones Act security blanket.  The Jones Act supports our national security by providing the sealift capability to support our deployed troops.  It enhances our homeland security by reducing the risk profile of vessels moving cargo between American ports.  Finally, the Jones Act provides economic security for our workers and domestic supply lines.

With the Jones Act marking its 100th anniversary in 2020, Lake Carriers’ opposes any legislation to amend or repeal this fundamental law of the American maritime industry; opposes blanket waivers; and opposes inclusion of changes to the Jones Act in any trade agreements.  While limited exemptions to the Jones Act are allowed during national emergencies, financial exemptions for commercial vessels must not be permitted.  If an economically viable trade develops that requires a new type of U.S.-flag vessel, there will be fierce competition for the American commercial marketplace without changing the cabotage laws.  American ships and sailors should not be idled by Jones Act waivers and forced to watch foreign-flag vessels and crews move domestic cargo.

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