Puerto Rico Ports chief, shippers assure supply availability as Dorian skims Florida
Retailers insist on repeal of inventory tax amid hurricane season
SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Anthony Maceira, met Tuesday with the Puerto Rico Shippers Association and its president, Eduardo Pagán, and assured the availability of food and merchandise on the island during the peak of the hurricane season.
In addition, they discussed concerted actions that shipping companies have taken to ensure the arrival of supplies to the island. Gov. Wanda Vázquez welcomed the meeting, a Ports release says, “noting that her administration is fully collaborating and made itself available to help the shipping companies ensure the arrival of merchandise to Puerto Rico” during the hurricane season.
As Hurricane Dorian’s path took it up along the east coast of Florida, the U.S. Coast Guard ordered the closure Monday of the Port of Jacksonville, from where 90% of the merchandise is shipped to the island.
“Anticipating this situation the shipping companies [ordered] the departure of vessels in advance last week from Florida and New Jersey with merchandise to Puerto Rico. In the past few days, we have been receiving such vessels, and the closure of the Port of Jacksonville is estimated to last only a couple of days, which represents a minimum delay. In addition, there is merchandise on the island for between 20 to 30 days, which rules out that there will be a shortage of food and other products,” Maceira said.
This week (Aug. 31 to Sept. 6), the island will be receiving about 40 different cargo vessels, the Ports official added.
For his part, Pagán clarified that the cargo ships that left the island for Jacksonville will “only experience a minimum delay” while the stateside port is reopened, which is expected Thursday.
“It should be noted that after the experience with [Hurricane] Maria two years ago, many food distributors have increased their inventory of supplies on the island between July and November. In addition, we have agreements with other ports, both inside and outside the United States, to use them if necessary to transport merchandise to Puerto Rico,” Pagán said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Puerto Rico Retail Trade Association (ACDET by it Spanish initials), Iván Báez, again urged the government and the legislature to end the inventory tax, “because of the food safety risk it represents for Puerto Rico,” as the closure of the Port of Jacksonville was announced.
“The elimination of the inventory tax is urgent. The crisis we suffered after the scourge of Hurricane Maria exposed the precariousness of our supplies and our vulnerability. We reiterate that the current tax prevents having the necessary inventories maintained to meet the needs of our people,” Báez said in a statement.
He stressed that a large part of the food, basic necessities and supplies consumed on the island are shipped from the Jacksonville port and the island’s stores are on high alert.
“Although the Puerto Rico Ports Authority assures that supplies would [only] be delayed 48 hours to reach our shores, the truth is that in an emergency, there are no guarantees and we have been lucky that the recent threats have not become complex emergencies. We depend on products from other latitudes and if the port that supplies us with more than 80 percent of the imports on the island is paralyzed, we are completely helpless,” he stressed.
Báez also pointed out that during the last legislative session, ACDET, along with other private sector leaders, mayors, the executive branch officials and lawmakers agreed to identify alternatives to the tax. However, he said, despite the insistence of ACDET and the coalition of associations that have joined the private sector’s appeal, no results have been achieved.
—CyberNews contributed to this report.