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Understanding the Jones Act: The America-First cabotage policy

On Behalf of | Oct 5, 2022 | Jones Act

The Jones Act is a particularly controversial law being debated in Rhode Island and other maritime states. It was originally passed to promote American shipping. But in the past century, the nature of the global economy has changed drastically. There is continuous discussion over whether or not the act should be repealed and how that repeal may aid American industry. It will likely continue to fuel heated disputes between domestic shipping companies and businesses in more isolated territories throughout the Caribbean and Pacific.

What is the Jones Act?

The Jones Act is a law regulating the operations of merchant vessels in the United States engaged in the cabotage trade. This trade is on the coast and between American ports. It was passed in 1920 in the aftermath of the First World War and is meant to support American shipping companies and workers. Any vessel engaged in the cabotage trade must have been built in the United States and have an American crew. It must fly the American flag and be owned by Americans as well. The law originated from centuries of naval restrictions that boosted certain countries and their interests over the interests of other countries.

Why does it matter?

The Jones Act is relevant in a number of different situations. One, in particular, is the special circumstances of islands such as Guam and Hawaii. These states and territories are in some cases hundreds of miles away from the nearest American port. In order to operate, they have to take on additional costs to work with American shippers and ports.

In addition, the requirements of the Jones Act can be burdensome during natural emergencies. Areas may need to receive supplies as fast as possible from whatever ships are in the vicinity. In those instances, it should not matter exactly where a ship was produced or who is on its crew.