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Waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico’s Sake

Puerto Rico is reeling after Hurricane Maria. Its residents, American citizens, do not have adequate food, water, shelter, or electricity, and await necessary aid. Yet the Trump administration has refused to waive the Jones Act, a 1920 law that is making it harder for ships to provide that aid. Michael Tanner explained the law yesterday:

The Jones Act requires that all cargo shipped to Puerto Rico is carried on ships built entirely in the United States, owned by a U.S. citizen, flying a U.S. flag, and staffed by a majority-American crew. Relatively few ships meet those requirements. And at a time when even a brief delay in getting assistance to suffering islanders could cost lives, the Jones Act is an unneeded impediment to that aid.

“We have a lot of people who work in the shipping industry who don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” President Trump said today to defend his decision not to grant the emergency waiver. That’s true, but it’s not really a defense of his decision: Of course American shipbuilders and sailors have an interest in keeping the protectionist law in place. The relevant consideration here is whether the timely delivery of aid to Puerto Ricans is more important than that.

In an interview with CNN, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello said waiving the shipping restrictions would be “critical, particularly for fuel . . . so that we can have the major functions of telecoms, hospitals, and water running appropriately.” It was an easy decision for the president to waive the Jones Act (which applies to any cargo shipped between two U.S. ports) in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It should be an easy decision here, too.

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