(Extensions of Remarks - December 19, 2019)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1628-E1629]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []



                              HON. ED CASE

                               of hawaii

                    in the house of representatives

                      Thursday, December 19, 2019

  Mr. CASE. Madam Speaker, today I introduce three bills to end a 
century of monopolistic closed market domestic cargo shipping to and 
from my isolated home state of Hawai'i as well as the other island and 
separated jurisdictions of our country not part of the continental 
United States. In doing so, we will break the stranglehold on the 
peoples and economies of these exposed communities and their resulting 
sky-high costs of living which results from just a few domestic 
shipping companies controlling the lifeline of commerce upon which we 
absolutely depend.
  These bills all amend the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as 
the Jones Act. That federal law mandates that all cargo shipping 
between U.S. ports occur exclusively on U.S., not foreign, flagged 
vessels. Additionally, the law requires that these vessels are built in 
the U.S. and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.
  The Jones Act was enacted in a protectionist era under the guise of 
preserving a strong national merchant marine. But today it is just an 
anachronism: most of the world's shipping is by way of an international 
merchant marine functioning in an open, competitive market. And those 
few U.S. flag cargo lines that remain have maneuvered the Jones Act to 
develop virtual monopolies over domestic cargo shipping to, from and 
within our most isolated and exposed locales--our island and offshore 
states and territories--that have no alternative modes of 
transportation such as trucking or rail.
  My Hawai'i is a classic example. Located almost 2,500 miles off the 
West Coast, we import well over 90 percent of our life necessities by 
ocean cargo. There are plenty of international cargo lines who could 
and would compete for a share of that market. Yet only two U.S. flag 
domestic cargo lines--Matson Navigation and Pasha Hawai'i--operate a 
virtual duopoly over our lifeline.
  While they are nominally subject to federal regulation, the fact of 
the matter is that cargo prices have gone in only one direction--up, 
fast and repeatedly, despite a surplus of international shipping--and 
it is indisputable that there is no downward market pressure which 
would otherwise result from meaningful competition. These accelerating 
cargo prices are not absorbed by the shipping lines, but passed through 
all the way down the chain, to the transporters, wholesalers, 
retailers, small businesses, mom-n-pops and ultimately consumers, of 
all of the elementals of life, from food to medical supplies, clothes, 
housing and virtually all other goods. The result is a crippling drag 
on an already-challenged economy and the very quality of life in 
  The broadest, deepest effects of the Jones Act on Hawai'i result from 
its impact on westbound imports from the continental United States to 
Hawai'i. But Hawai'i is an export location as well, in key products 
such as agriculture and livestock. Here the Jones Act also effectively 
stifles meaningful competition in getting those products to their 
primary markets on the U.S. Mainland. Because the producers of these 
products and all that rely for their own livelihood on their successful 
export have to eat inflated shipping costs, these export industries, 
which any economist knows are the ultimate key to any economy's 
prosperity, are also crippled.
  Let's take a concrete example: Hawaii's once-prosperous ranching/
cattle industry, which is so key to the economic health and the very 
lifestyle of so much of areas like the rural Big Island, where I was 
born and raised. That industry depends on getting its product, young 
cattle, to West Coast pens and transportation hubs in a cost-efficient 
  There are foreign cargo carriers that specialize, through custom 
cattle ships and overall sensitivity and adjustment to rancher 
timetables and needs, in such transport, but the Jones Act outright 
excludes them from the Hawai'i-Mainland market. As a result, Hawaii's 
ranchers are reduced to two crippling, cost magnifying options.
  The first is to ship their cargo by foreign carriers to Canada, where 
they have to go through a myriad of bureaucratic, cost-magnifying 
gyrations to get their product eventually to their U.S. markets. The 
second is to beg for the goodwill of the domestic carriers, to whom 
this is simply a hindrance rather than a major commitment, to ship 
directly to the West Coast.
  And it shows: most of the cattle are first shipped from Hawaii's 
Neighbor Islands, where the bulk of the cattle industry is located, to 
O'ahu, in small ``cow-tainers,'' where they sit for days in Honolulu 
Harbor awaiting the return to the Mainland of one of the massive cargo 
ships designed and utilized for quite another purpose. The result 
(besides associated higher costs) is in-harbor cattle waste disposal 
challenges, higher in-transit cattle mortality and lower-weight cattle 
delivery to market. That's what happens when you try to squeeze a 
square peg into a round hole.
  More broadly, there is much evidence about the direct impact of the 
Jones Act on shipping prices to noncontiguous areas. At a basic level, 
the everyday goods that we rely on in Hawai'i cost much more than on 
the Mainland, a difference which largely cannot be attributed to 
anything other than shipping costs. Yesterday, there was a 30 percent 
difference in the price of a gallon of milk at Safeway grocery stores 
in Honolulu and Long Beach, California. My constituents pay $6.39 for a 
gallon of whole milk and those in Long Beach, one of the major ports 
where Hawaii's good come

[[Page E1629]]

from, pay $4.49. Really, shipping that gallon of milk to Hawai'i from 
California is 30 percent of the total cost of the product in Hawai'i?
  In 2012, the Federal Reserve Bank ofNew York studied Puerto Rico's 
economy and found that ``the high cost of shipping is a substantial 
burden on the Island's productivity.'' The New York Fed found that, 
``[i]t costs an estimated $3,063 to ship a twenty-foot container of 
household and commercial goods from the East Coast of the United States 
to Puerto Rico; the same shipment costs $1,504 to nearby Santo Domingo 
(Dominican Republic) and $1,687 to Kingston (Jamaica)--destinations 
that are not subject to Jones Act restrictions.'' There is only one 
reason why costs are double to ship from the continental United States 
to a domestic port in Puerto Rico as compared to foreign ports in the 
Dominican Republic and Jamaica: there is international competition on 
the latter routes, none on the domestic route and the shipping 
companies take full advantage of that lack of competition.
  The three bills I introduce today say: enough is enough. If you, the 
continental U.S., wants to continue the Jones Act as to shipping 
between your locations, that's your business. But don't penalize us 
island and other noncontiguous locations by throwing us to the monopoly 
wolves you've created.
  The first bill, the Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act, exempts all 
noncontiguous U.S. locations, including Hawai'i, from the Jones Act. 
The second, the Noncontiguous Shipping Reasonable Rate Act, benchmarks 
the definition of a ``reasonable rate'' that Jones Act shipping can 
charge to within ten percent of analogous international shipping rates. 
And the third, the Noncontiguous Shipping Competition Act, prevents 
monopolies or duopolies in noncontiguous Jones Act shipping. 
Essentially, the bills are intended to lay out options for providing 
relief for our U.S. noncontiguous areas. We can resolve the issue in 
many ways, but we must change the status quo which has had such a deep, 
broad and negative impact on my state and the other jurisdictions 
beholden to the Jones Act.
  The Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act would allow the noncontiguous 
jurisdictions to be serviced by non-Jones Act vessels and increase, or 
in some cases create any, competition in these critical shipping lanes. 
Again, this is a small portion of the total national Jones Act shipping 
where it is particularly destructive in application.
  Let me address directly the argument offered up by the domestic 
shippers in defense of the Jones Act: that it contains important labor 
and environmental protections that would be lost upon repeal. My bill 
would retain these important protections. Specifically, it provides 
that all foreign shippers operating under the bill's Jones Act 
exemptions must comply with the same labor, environmental, tax, 
documentation, U.S. locus and other laws as are applicable to non-U.S. 
flag ships and shippers transiting U.S. waters today.
  The Noncontiguous Shipping Reasonable Rate Act would define a 
``reasonable rate'' for the noncontiguous domestic ocean trade as no 
more than ten percent above the rate set by a comparable international 
rate recognized by the Federal Maritime Commission. Currently, the 
Surface Transportation Board technically has the authority to 
adjudicate and set precedent on what a ``reasonable rate'' is for Jones 
Act shipping, but it has almost never been used and never to a clear 
conclusion on what is a reasonable rate. My bill would define 
reasonable to remove uncertainty. Current Jones Act shipping rates vary 
widely and there is no central compilation of these rates. The ten 
percent benchmark would allow for variance but also ensure that 
Americans in our noncontiguous areas are not forced to pay exorbitant 
rates way above shipping rates which would otherwise be provided 
through international competition were the Jones Act not applicable.
  The Noncontiguous Shipping Competition Act would exempt shipping 
routes to noncontiguous jurisdictions from the Jones Act requirements 
if a monopoly or duopoly exists on those routes. The Jones Act has 
resulted in the blossoming of monopolies and duopolies in our 
noncontiguous jurisdictions. To ensure that these communities, which 
are the most reliant in the country on shipping to receive necessities, 
are not held hostage to these dominant companies, my bill would give 
Jones Act exemptions to routes that are not serviced by at least three 
companies with separate ownership. In short, if a domestic route is in 
fact in a competitive environment, the Jones Act is less of a problem, 
but if there is no competition, then the route should be opened up to 
international competition by rescinding the Jones Act.
  Madam Speaker, these long-overdue bills are of the utmost importance 
to the localities which have long borne the unfair brunt of the Jones 
Act. It is often difficult to pierce the veil of longstanding custom 
and understanding to see the real negative impacts of a law and what 
should instead be. It is even more difficult to change a law which 
provides a federally-created and endorsed monopoly under which no 
competition exists to hold down prices. Yet clearly the time for these 
measures is overdue. I urge their passage.