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The ITF Cabotage Task Force conducts its first meeting in the MTD conference room.

The ITF Cabotage Task Force conducts its first meeting in the MTD conference room.

The MTD hosted the first meeting of the newly formed International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Cabotage Task Force on October 27.

The session in Washington was the beginning of a two-day gathering involving union representatives from the United States, Canada, Norway, Brazil, Nigeria, Australia, Greece and the Philippines, which met the following day at the Seafarers Union headquarters in Camp Springs, Maryland.

The body elected MTD Eastern Area Executive Board Member Jim Given as task force chair.

Given, as the president of the Seafarers Union of Canada, has led a year-long battle to expose the attacks on Canadian cabotage contained within the proposed Canadian-European Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement. Concern about the pact – known as CETA – was a major issue in this month’s Canadian elections which turned out the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The ITF organized the task force to take the offensive in explaining the value of having national jobs in national waters. In addition to the fight in Canada, a similar battle to preserve cabotage is being waged in Australia, the Indonesian government rejected attempts to weaken its cabotage laws, while India reversed a ruling that had taken away some of its cabotage authority. In speaking to the task force, MTD President Michael Sacco noted the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils are constantly on the alert for possible attacks to the Jones Act in the United States.

ITF Seafarers Section Chair David Heindel stated, “Cabotage is under attack from shipowners and their allies, who are chasing big profits at the expense of national jobs. We’re not against free trade. We’re pro-fair trade.”

Nearly 50 nations around the world have some system of reserving national domestic maritime commerce for its own citizens to ensure the retention of skilled workers and decent jobs within the industry. The task force will identify affiliated maritime unions in countries that are developing cabotage or are fighting off attacks, where the ITF could provide practical support and tools to strengthen their campaigns. This would include sharing information about cabotage policies and restrictions around the world.