The U.S. needs a thriving maritime sector, for both economic and military reasons.
The best way to achieve this is to lift the Jones Act’s protectionist blanket. Granted, that’s not so simple, because the act is part of a complex regulatory and legal web. But some straightforward steps could bring immediate benefits.
First, grant at least a five-year waiver of the act to Puerto Rico. This would speed the island’s recovery. It would also test how best to regulate foreign-flag carriers, and provide data to show exactly what the act is costing.
Next, scrap the act’s “build-in-America” provision, as Senator John McCain and others have proposed.
Allow foreign-flag ships sailing from and then onward to foreign ports to deliver cargo to more than one U.S. port on a given coast.
Make U.S. coastal shipping more efficient with new infrastructure and smarter regulation.
Change tax structures that put U.S.-flag ships and their crews at a disadvantage.
Undoing the Jones Act will be disruptive. Workers who lose their jobs should be compensated. But U.S. aircraft and automobile manufacturers make better products because of foreign competition, and its railroads and trucking industry have done well since deregulation.
The success of U.S. coastal shipping should be measured not by the U.S. vessels and sailors it employs but by its contribution to the overall U.S. economy.