Ever since the Canadian Free Trade Agreement in 1988 was approved, the United States has entered into a series of international trade pacts that have put critical American industries at risk. Whether it’s a bilateral agreement with an individual country or the latest round of talks on modifying the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the MTD has fought and continues to fight the adoption of policies that would have dire consequences for the U.S. maritime industry.
If the European Union and nations like Japan and South Korea have their way, international shipping, auxiliary services, port facilities and multi-modal transport services would be included in a revised WTO agreement. Were this to happen, America’s vitally important cabotage laws would be gutted. The ability of the U.S. government to continue supporting the U.S.-flag fleet for national defense and economic purposes would be compromised. Programs like the Maritime Security Program, the Title XI Shipbuilding Loan Guarantee Program and cargo preference would be compromised.
The irony of all this is that the U.S. maritime trades are among the most open in the world. Foreign-flag shipping lines already carry more than 97 percent of all U.S. international trade. Shoreside activities such as terminal operation, trucking and warehousing are all open, with many being foreign owned. In contrast, most other countries have more restrictive shipping regimes than the United States. In an attempt to gain even greater access to the U.S. maritime trades, foreign countries have been unrelenting in their desire to include transportation services under an international trade umbrella.
Maritime services have been excluded from many international agreements because the MTD and other maritime organizations have been successful in their educational and outreach programs to Congress and the American public. The Department will continue to fight to preserve a strong U.S. maritime industry capable of providing a skilled pool of civilian mariners and an intermodal network capable of sustaining U.S. strategic defense interests.