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National Maritime Symposium a good first step

National Maritime Symposium a good first step

Yesterday, we concluded the Maritime Administration's first National Maritime Strategy Symposium, and we're pleased that it included so many leaders who work every day providing for the economic and national security of our nation’s waterways.

The U.S.-Flag commercial fleet, crewed by U.S. merchant mariners, provides safe, reliable, and environmentally-responsible transport of cargo to support economic activity –both domestically and internationally. Maritime trade is a critical part of our country’s economy.

That’s why the three day symposium was so important. More than 250 people representing shippers, operators, labor, academics, and government agencies participated in roundtable discussions, panel sessions and presentations, all focused on developing a national maritime strategy.

Photo of fully loaded container ship at sea

Why do we need a national maritime strategy? Because more than 75 percent of America's exports and imports are moved by water, and --in the face of changing market trends and increasing international competition--we want to ensure that we continue to control and grow our maritime supply routes. A stronger, more sustainable fleet can help us do just that, creating jobs and strengthening our economy in the process.

Photo of merchant mariner aboard US-Flag Maersk IllinoisThe symposium was an important step in the right direction…but only a first step. More meetings will follow as we work to turn the ideas and concepts discussed this week into a structured approach that will have the impact we need. The result should be a policy that keeps America’s sealift capability; protects our long-term economic interests; and maintains the strategic asset of the U.S. Merchant Marine.

The maritime industry is so diverse, and the ideas discussed this week have been so far reaching; it will be important to focus on our needs rather than wants. Development of a strategy that all in the industry –shippers, labor, operators, government– can get behind and support, putting our strength and focus on realistic goals that make U.S. Maritime sustainable is essential.

Our nation was the world leader in vessel innovation for much of the last century, and I’m certain we can return the U.S. Merchant Marine to its rightful place among the leaders in worldwide shipping.  We can, and we must. . .because doing nothing is not an option.

Chip Jaenichen is Acting Administrator of the Maritime Administration.

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I am encouraged by the initiatives Acting Administrator Jaenichen has taken, I look forward to progressing in the weeks ahead to further meetings, new ideas and new ways of approaching our problems. However, it is unclear to me that a comprehensive reform can occur without considering all the problems of the foreign trade fleet in concert. The United States is far behind in maritime reform compared to many EU and far eastern states. Trade is our fundamental national security. Our foreign trade fleet is simply not getting its fair share of the freights arising from our exports and imports. I have proposed and published a paper on the comprehensive reform of the foreign trade fleet. It is my hope that it can and may be used freely to generate innovation and reform which is long overdue and urgently needed.

"More than 250 people representing shippers, operators, labor, academics, and government agencies participated in roundtable discussions..." Was there anyone present who actually works aboard ship? ISM, STCW, Criminalization and a host of other forces are driving people out of the industry faster than they're coming in. There won't be much of an industry if you don't have the seafarers to man the ships.

I am a Capitalist and I support market competition, but American maritime policy needs to support creation of good jobs in America for Americans, both in ship building and ship operations, before we cater to the demands of others. Adam Smith wrote that government policy must protect "the Commons" from exploitation by "the Mercantilists." The ready availability of natural gas creates a competitive advantage for American ship owners. Yet today billions of American taxpayer dollars are being spent to dredge ports deeper to accommodate bigger Post-Panamax ships that are built in foreign shipyards and manned by foreign crews. In addition, the negative ecological costs of dredging are being ignored in this rush to support the needs of Nations that exploit their low labor costs to undercut American manufacturers. It is not in American interests to spend billions of taxpayer monies merely to make it cheaper to import more cheap stuff from low-labor cost Nations. American policy and investment should exploit American competitive advantages and ensure that American jobs, ecosystems and wetlands are protected before we rush like lemmings chanting the mantra of "free markets" to justify billions of American taxpayer support for foreign economic interests.
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