In 2014 John McCain said ‘the power of this maritime lobby is as powerful as anybody or any organization I have run up against in my political career’. This week President Trump has had to face up against the shipping industry amidst mounting pressure to lift the 1920 Jones Act. The Act requires that ships going from American coast to American coast must be American- built, owned, flagged and crewed. Whilst the law gives strong advantage and security to American shipping firms, its critics have seen it as a hamper to free trade, unfairly inflating the price of shipped goods. Unsurprisingly such criticism has most notably been leveled by Hawaii, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, who claim to be disproportionately affected by the Act.
Earlier this week Trump appeared reluctant to commit to waiving the act, something he had previously done for both Florida and Texas, stating cautiously that ‘a lot of people who are in the shipping industry don’t want it’ lifted. However on Thursday the President issued a waiver for an initial 10-day period. How much it will help is unclear, most of Puerto Rico’s ports have been destroyed or disabled by Maria, along with 80% of the territory’s crop value, thousands of homes, and the island’s power grid. Port San Juan, one of the largest functioning ones, is packed full of containers full of food, water and resources but there is simply not the means to distribute the produce.
John McCain and others however have expressed the view that not wavering the Act would largely inflate the cost of the Island’s relief effort. McCain has long been an advocate of repealing the law, and Maria has clearly opened up the debate once again. Despite its critics, The Washington Examiner reported that among representatives of states with ports and strong shipping industries, the Act continues to maintain strong support, with the interests of the Shipping Industry strongly anchored by the Shipbuilders Council of America.