AMP president: Support in Washington for Jones Act ‘never higher’

(WASHINGTON) — Newly elected American Maritime Partnership (AMP) President Ku’uhaku Park on Thursday provided closing remarks on day one of the Capital Link Jones Act & U.S. Flag Shipping Forum.

“I’m happy to report that overall support for the Jones Act in Congress and the administration has never been higher than it is today,” Park said. “An overwhelming majority of the members of Congress in both parties and in both chambers support the Jones Act. In addition to the Congress, this administration is extremely supportive of the Jones Act. President Biden strongly supported the Jones Act during the campaign and then reiterated his strong support publicly almost immediately upon taking office.”

Full remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Thanks for the opportunity to be here at the Capital Link Forum. I’m Ku’u Park, senior vice president of Matson, speaking to you today from Honolulu. I am also the president of the American Maritime Partnership or AMP, the national Jones Act coalition. AMP is the largest legislative coalition in the history of the American maritime industry, representing all elements of the domestic maritime industry — ship operators, mariners, shipyards and associated pro-defense organizations. We’ve been around for 27 years.

Ku’uhaku Park

“Let me share a couple of numbers with you about the American domestic fleet. The Jones Act is the fundamental law of our business, underpinning an industry that supports nearly 650,000 family-wage jobs and provides more than $150 billion in economic value every year. Labor income for the exceptional mariners and other workers in this industry totals about $40 billion annually. There are about 40,000 vessels in the U.S. domestic fleet – one of the largest domestic fleets in the world.

“The benefits of the U.S. domestic industry are not confined to one part of our country. As you might expect, Louisiana, Florida, Texas and California are the top four states for American domestic shipping jobs, but the industry’s impact extends far beyond that. For example, the largest shipbuilding state is Virginia although there are major shipbuilding clusters scattered around the country. The largest number of vessels operate on the inland waterway of the United States in the guts of our nation, in places like Tennessee, Kentucky and beyond. American vessels carry essential goods in the non-contiguous trades of Puerto Rico, Alaska and here in Hawaii. U.S. tankers and tank vessels transport critical crude oil and refined petroleum products along the West, Gulf, and East coasts of the nation. The American bulk fleet carries iron ore and other products on the Great Lakes from places like Minnesota and Michigan, including supplying America’s major steel manufacturers at mills in Indiana and beyond. American dredging companies operate in U.S. harbors, ports, and rivers virtually everywhere there is a navigational waterway. The U.S. domestic fleet and its shippers are pretty much everywhere. My company even has a large office in Arizona.

American Maritime Partnership photo

“Given this audience, I’d like to focus today on a question I am asked regularly: how strong is the support in Congress and the administration for the Jones Act?

“Let me start to answer that question by telling you that our organization has for many years kept meticulous records of the positions of the approximately 535 Members of Congress on the Jones Act. We keep track of who is on record in support of the Jones Act and who is not … and what they have said about the Jones Act and other coastwise laws over time. Often their positions are nuanced, and we keep track of that too. That is information culled from public statements, personal interactions with the congresspeople and their staff, and other data gathered over decades. Needless to say, we have the best information available about where Congress and the administration stand on the Jones Act at any given time.

“So today, on Feb. 24, 2022, I can tell you the Jones Act is strong and stable and enjoys overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support in Washington, D.C. Never since we have kept records has the support been this strong.

“So the obvious question is why are members of Congress and the administration supporting the law at a record level now? Here’s my best answer.

“Historically, the Jones Act has enjoyed support for three reasons: national security, homeland security and economic security. Senior military officials and senior homeland officials have consistently talked about the importance of the Jones Act to the security of our nation. The Jones Act also contributes to our economic security — 650,000 jobs (and) $150 billion in economic impact. It is not lost on our elected leaders that repealing the Jones Act would be outsourcing our nation’s jobs and security.

“National, homeland and economic security are the historical reasons Congress has supported the Jones Act. But another reason for the strong support today is the supply chain crisis, which has reminded us all in vivid ways that reliable transportation is not an academic point. The recent supply chain crisis has really underscored the importance of a reliable domestic maritime industry, particularly in the U.S. non-contiguous trades.

“Today, as you all know, America faces one of its worst supply chain disruptions ever for containerized cargoes. Record numbers of vessels are waiting outside of America’s largest ports, containers are stacked on docks, warehouses are overflowing, and there is a current shortage of labor, such as truck drivers, among many other problems. There is rightly an intense amount of attention on international supply chain issues. The maritime industry rarely makes the front pages of newspapers, but the supply chain crisis has captured the world’s attention.

“It is a dismal picture with one bright spot: the performance of the U.S. domestic maritime industry. Across the country, including in areas like Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico that are dependent on ocean shipping for their basic goods, American carriers have continued to provide reliable, regular service to the ports that they serve, while international carriers wait at anchor off the U.S. coast. U.S. domestic shipping has delivered merchandise without the huge spikes in freight rates and service challenges that the U.S. international markets are experiencing. Additionally, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, international carriers canceled more than 500 trans-Pacific sailings. In contrast, Jones Act carriers have provided uninterrupted service and maintained a lifeline to many states and communities.

“American domestic maritime supply chains are characterized by vessels, infrastructure and personnel dedicated to specific trade lanes, contributing to their efficiency. By definition, American shipping companies and their workers have deep commitments to the trade routes where they live, work and raise their families. While Jones Act carriers are not immune from some shoreside challenges, including COVID-related labor shortages, these characteristics have provided extra insulation against supply chain challenges on domestic shipping routes.

Officials in Congress and the administration have noticed and appreciated the way the domestic shipping supply chains have remained stable, reliable, and cost-efficient during the crisis. The strong performance of the domestic fleet during the supply chain crisis is particularly powerful because of the emergence of China as a superpower with significant maritime ambitions. China has made clear its desire to control the seas. But the supply chain crisis has been a vivid reminder that allowing foreign control over American domestic shipping would create serious vulnerabilities. For example, in my home state of Hawaii, allowing state-owned Chinese shipping companies to control the route between here and the mainland would be unacceptable. That would allow Chinese carriers to use their economic leverage over Hawaii for purposes that would be contrary to our interests. That fact has been lost on no one. The current crisis makes the national security importance of the Jones Act obvious.

“So, in summary, support for the Jones Act in Congress and in the executive branch are at record highs, for all the usual reasons plus the American domestic industry’s performance during the supply chain crisis as well as the emergence of China as a maritime superpower. I’m happy to be able to deliver this good news story to you today. Thanks to Capital Link for this opportunity and good luck tomorrow on the rest of your conference.”

– American Maritime Partnership

By Rich Miller