Biden Administration Deflects Blame on America’s Self-Inflicted Ocean Shipping Problems

“The Jones Act, more formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, places extremely strict, deliberately protectionist rules in place that can help explain why shipping prices are high.

The Jones Act requires that goods traveling between U.S. ports be carried by ships constructed in the U.S. and owned and operated by U.S. companies and workers. The ostensible purpose of this old law was to give U.S. maritime companies a domestic advantage over foreign competitors. In reality, the law has backfired magnificently. The domestic shipbuilding industry has collapsed because it’s just cheaper to build ships in other countries, giving a handful of companies complete market dominance. This means that most new ships are not compliant with the Jones Act, and attempting to break into the domestic market is oppressively expensive. Only 2 percent of the United States’ own domestic freight is transported by sea due to this law.

It also means it’s incredibly costly to import goods to isolated parts of the U.S. like Hawaii, Alaska, and territories like Puerto Rico. Ships compliant with the Jones Act cost three times more to build and up to five times more to operate than foreign counterparts. These calculations, Cato Institute Policy Analyst Colin Grabow notes, originate from our own federal government’s analyses.

The Jones Act has essentially created the exact same noncompetitive domestic environment that the Biden administration is blaming on foreign companies. In response to the administration’s complaints, Grabow observes that just two domestic carriers are responsible for almost all Jones Act–compliant ocean shipping to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Guam. And consumers there have to pay through the nose for goods.”

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