Powerful national groups oppose Puerto Rico ocean shipping law exemptions

The idea of exempting Puerto Rico from the law requiring that ocean shipping between U.S. ports be on U.S. built, owned, and registered vessels with primarily U.S. crews has been rejected by two groups with great influence in official Washington.

The nation’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, and the coalition of U.S. ship builders, owners, and sailors, the American Maritime Partnership, reacted to a major report on the application of the law known as the Jones Act to the territory.

The report was done by the Congress’ Government Accountability Office at the request of Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, (statehood-D), who has a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote only in its committees.

In releasing the report Wednesday, March 20th, Pierluisi said he would propose at least two exemptions for Puerto Rico.  These would permit foreign shipping to carry liquid natural gas (LNG) and other fuels, animal feed and other grains, and fertilizer from the States to Puerto Rico.

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s spokesman greeted Pierluisi’s proposal positively.  Garcia’s 2012 running mate against Pierluisi, Rafael Cox Alomar, however, dismissed it.  He called for a complete exemption for Puerto Rico.

A statement from the AFL-CIO, however, said “the alteration of the Jones Act to allow foreign companies to enter the Puerto Rican-American market would  negatively affect the economies of both Puerto Rico and the United States.”

And the Maritime Partnership asserted that U.S. shipping could meet Puerto Rico’s needs for the bulk cargoes for which Pierluisi said he would propose Puerto Rico exemptions.

In addition, the Puerto Rico Maritime Alliance of shipping companies and workers said that it would not support the exemptions proposed by Pierluisi.

Five members of the Hawaii House of Representatives, however, took a very different position.  They proposed a resolution advocating the exemption of Puerto Rico and Alaska as well as Hawaii from the requirement to use U.S. built vessels for shipping freight between U.S. ports.

The resolution is at odds, though, with the traditional position of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, which has supported the Jones Act.

 

 

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