U.S. International Food Aid Programs: Transportation Perspectives
1300 Longworth House Office Building
This is a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture of the Agriculture Committee.
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Joint Hearing with the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture on “U.S. International Food Aid Programs: Transportation Perspectives”
November 17, 2015
(Remarks as Prepared)
The United States maritime industry currently employs more than 260,000 Americans providing nearly $29 billion in annual wages. There are more than 40,000 commercial vessels currently flying the American flag. The vast majority of these vessels are engaged in domestic commerce, moving over 100 million passengers and $400 billion worth of goods between United States ports on an annual basis. Each year, the United States maritime industry accounts for over $100 billion in economic output.
Beyond the important contributions to our economy, our nation has relied on United States flag commercial vessels crewed by American Merchant Mariners to transport food aid to countries in need, as well as carry troops, weapons, and supplies to the battlefield. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, U.S. flag commercial vessels transported 63 percent of all military cargos moved to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Unfortunately, over the last 35 years, the number of United States flagged vessels sailing in the international trade has dropped from 850 to less than 90. Less than two percent of the world’s tonnage now moves on United States flag vessels. In the same period, we have lost over 300 shipyards and thousands of jobs for American mariners. For the sake of our national and economic security, we need to reverse this trend.
The United States agriculture community and maritime industry are critical components of United States international food aid. For sixty years, these entities have supplied and delivered food to hungry people around the world. The United States Agency for International Development has proposed reforming cargo preference by shifting from vessel category to cargo type, applying the 50 percent cargo preference requirement on a three-region basis, and adjusting how the 50 percent cargo preference is met using a combination of United States flag commercial vessels and foreign vessels. While these proposals may have merit, further discussion on them is needed.
With the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the volume of military cargo is declining and the availability of other government-impelled cargo, including food aid, is of greater importance to sustain a viable United States merchant marine. Understanding how policy changes affect the fleet is imperative.
To remain a world power, with the ability to defend ourselves and our allies, it is critical that we maintain a robust fleet of United States flag commercial vessels to carry much needed supplies to the battlefield, food aid to countries in need, a large cadre of skilled American mariners to man those vessels, and a strong shipyard industrial base to ensure we have the capability to build and replenish our naval forces in times of war.
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