Late last week, U.S. Rep. Ed Case introduced three bills in Congress to reform the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the “Jones Act.”

The act mandates that all cargo shipped between U.S. ports occur exclusively on U.S. and not foreign-flagged vessels, and that the vessels be built in the U.S. and owned and crewed by Americans.

In a press release, Case’s office argues that the Jones Act is “widely credited with artificially inflating” the cost of shipping goods to Hawaii.

“My three bills aim directly at one of the key drivers of our astronomically high cost of living in Hawaii and other locations in our country that are not part of the continental U.S,” said Case, a Democrat.

New Matson container cranes arrive at Honolulu Harbor on BigLift ship.
New Matson container cranes arrive at Honolulu Harbor, April 13, 2019. The state imports about 90% of its goods, which is why Rep. Case wants to amend the Jones Act. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He continued: “Because the Jones Act severely limits the supply of shipping to and from our communities, it has allowed a very few companies to control our very lifeline to the outside world and as a result command shipping rates way higher than the rest of the world.”

Case’s amendments to the act are:

  • the Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act, which exempts all noncontiguous U.S. locations, including Hawaii, from the Jones Act;
  • the Noncontiguous Shipping Reasonable Rate Act, which benchmarks the definition of a “reasonable rate” which domestic shippers can charge as no more than 10% above international shipping rates for comparable routes; and
  • the Noncontiguous Shipping Competition Act, which rescinds the Jones Act wherever monopolies or duopolies develop in noncontiguous Jones Act shipping areas.

Historically, Hawaii’s Democrats and labor unions have strongly supported the Jones Act, arguing that it protects jobs.

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