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Don’t just waive Jones Act — repeal it

By in Press Enterprise on October 6, 2017

By The Editorial Board

Until the recent hurricane-driven humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, most Americans who had even heard of the Jones Act knew very little about its adverse effects on oceangoing trade.

Most of us, after all, have few reasons in our daily lives to pay attention to the often-arcane laws of the seas. To the extent that we had known about the nearly century-old law, it was in the form of regulatory anecdotes. It does seem crazy, for instance, that the law makes it so expensive to ship goods from Hawaii that many ranchers in the islands find it cheaper to actually fly cattle to the mainland than to load them onto a cargo ship.

In its essence, the Jones Act of 1920 requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flagged ships, constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. It was enacted during a time when American shipping was under threat of foreign domination.

Like all such protectionist laws, it creates the equal and opposite effect of often increasing the costs of goods to American consumers. That’s bad enough. But during times of supply crises such as the one affecting the United States territory of Puerto Rico after its people were devastated by storm winds and rains, with millions running low on food and water, the Jones Act can have a deadly effect on the ability to move goods where they are needed. That’s why, after several days of prodding, the Trump administration agreed to a temporary waiver of the act in order to allow foreign ships to bring goods to San Juan.

In the wake of the hurricane, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., have introduced legislation to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act. That’s […]    

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