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MYTH: The Jones Act keeps foreign ships out of America’s inland waterways

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The following is an excerpt from “Five myths about the Jones Act,” by institute research associated Josh Mason and Jonathan Helton.
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U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, who sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, claimed on the House floor in 2019 that without the Jones Act, Chinese-built and operated vessels could travel up and down the rivers of “the very heartland of the United States of America.”1 This concern has been echoed by other Jones Act supporters.2

However, there already are foreign-owned ships transporting goods along inland waterways such as the Mississippi and Delaware rivers.3 The Jones Act doesn’t prevent foreign-built and operated vessels from using these routes. As long as these ships are carrying merchandise between one U.S. port and one foreign port, they are free to operate in U.S. waters.

Babin’s presentation also included an image of a giant Chinese containership Photoshopped to look like it’s traveling along the Mississippi River.

Talk about myths: Massive oceangoing vessels like the one depicted in Babin’s presentation cannot navigate the Mississippi because the river is too shallow.4
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  1. Rep. Babin Speaks on the Jones Act,” YouTube, May 16, 2019. Quote at 00:25.
  2. Clay Discusses Why Trump Said No to Waiving the Jones Act for Energy Transport to Puerto Rico, Northeast,” Maritime TV, May 13, 2019. Quote from Clay Maitland, chairman of the Merchant Marine Policy Coalition, at 0:54: “For me, support of the Jones Act is all about preventing the Chinese government from getting control of our inland waterways.” See also, “Jones Act Matters For Inland Waterways,” Waterways Journal, March 21, 2019.
  3. Colin Grabow, “Chinese Ships on the Mississippi River: Just Another Jones Act Tall Tale,” Cato Institute, May 21, 2019.
  4. Ibid.

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