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MARITIME POLICY Should Be The Foundation Of Economic Reform

As President Clinton begins the formidable task of building an economic program that will bolster activity, create jobs and restore prosperity in our nation, nowhere is his leadership more urgently needed than in the task of strengthening our domestic maritime industries. The decline in this important economic sector has been truly staggering.

According to a report published January 6, 1993, by the U.S. Maritime Administration, the number of privately-owned, deep draft vessels in the U.S. merchant fleet totaled just 467 in 1992, an incredible figure for a once-preeminent maritime power. Fifty years ago, at the end of World War II, there were more then 5,000 of these vessels in the U.S. merchant fleet, and more than 100,000 people manning them. The report documents similar decreases in other areas. For example: There are only three commercial ships on order or under construction in U.S. shipyards, and amazingly, this is better than we were doing throughout much of the 1980's.

There are 3,200 fewer oceangoing shipboard jobs than there were one year ago. Fewer Americans work as longshoremen, and shipyard jobs are rapidly vanishing.

We cannot allow our nation's maritime industries to continue on their present course.

As every war and conflict in modern history has demonstrated, a strong sealift capability is essential to meeting the force deployment requirements of a major contingency.

Fully 95 percent of all American troops and supplies must be moved by sea during a conflict. In an emergency, our nation will have to depend upon existing U.S. flag cargo ships under charter to the Navy; its own fleet of fast sealift ships; U.S.- flag liners under contract with the government; and vessels from the Ready Reserve Force.

Despite the allies' success in Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War did reveal the clear limits of our present sealift capability.

Largely unnoticed were the shipyards in my district and around the nation that worked day and night to get an aging and rusting fleet of reserve vessels seaworthy.

We had to round-up aging and increasingly rare merchant seamen to man those ships. And while all Americans can be proud of what was achieved on such short notice during Desert Storm, there is some doubt about how we would fare in a longer conflict, with a stronger adversary, and less allied support.

"Our nation must get serious about negotiating an end to the large government subsidies that our foreign competitors make to their shipyards." National security is not the only reason why our maritime industries are important to this nation.

With a strong maritime policy, grounded in trade policies that eliminate the unfair shipyard subsidies of our competitors, the U.S. can put thousands of Americans back to work and re-establish itself as the world's undisputed maritime leader.

More than three years ago, the National Commission on Merchant Marine and Defense issued a comprehensive report which outlined a program to renew American flag shipping. The report called for tax incentives, a procure and charter program, and other needed measures to revitalize our maritime industries. It is a good starting point for developing the program we now need. Other steps can be taken as well. We should act expeditiously to move our next generation of fast sealift ships from the drawing board to the drydock.

More than $3 billion has already been appropriated for these ships, and their construction will help to preserve and create jobs in our nation's shipyards.

Our nation must get serious about negotiating an end to the large government subsidies that our foreign competitors make to their shipyards. It is common knowledge that some of our leading competitors employ a variety of direct and indirect subsidies to give their shipyards a competitive price advantage in world markets.

President Clinton has recently acknowledged the effect of such subsidies on the manufacturers of airliners by such companies as Boeing, and he should understand that the same principles apply in the construction of liner vessels.

The fundamental question is whether we want an American-flag merchant marine for our nation. The answer has to be "yes," and whatever is required to make this "yes" a reality must be done.

If our trade negotiators are unable to achieve an open and competitive market, then we must be willing to take stronger action. In the 102nd Congress, the House of Representatives gave overwhelming approval to legislation introduced by Congressman Gibbons of Florida that would prohibit new ships built with subsidies from calling at U.S. ports unless the value of the subsidy was first paid to the U.S. Treasury, or unless the nation of construction had signed a trade agreement with the U.S. to eliminate its subsidies completely.

The "shot across the bow" did not become law, but it did focus attention and debate on this critical and sensitive issue.

Congressman Owen Pickett Even without any new legislation, the Clinton Administration can achieve much by vigorously enforcing laws that are already on the books which are designed to promote and sustain a strong maritime industry for our nation.

One such law is Section 27 of the Jones Act, which requires that all vessels engaged in coastwise trade be built, rebuilt and repaired in American shipyards.

As America's shipbuilding and ship repair industry knows all too well, this law has not been enforced as Congress had intended. Judicial and administrative interpretations have hollowed out Section 27 to the point where there is virtually no limitation on the rebuilding and repair of Jones Act vessels that may take place abroad. The American interest has not been protected and a legislative remedy is clearly needed. I proposed legislation in the 102nd Congress to restore the original intent of Section 27 of the Jones Act but it was not acted upon favorably. As President Clinton and Transportation Secretary Pena work to develop a new and more aggressive national maritime policy, they would do well to close the loopholes in existing law as a part of their new program.

The few remaining men and women who work in the U.S. shipyards, who man U.S.-flagged vessels, and who are engaged in waterborne commerce, know that America can successfully compete in the maritime trades, if the artificial impediments to free and fair competition are eliminated.




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