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Puerto Rico Retailers Group Calls for ‘Indefinite Exemption’ of Cabotage Law

By on April 3, 2020

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Argues Jones Act Poses a Threat to Island’s Food, Medication and Supply Security Amid Pandemic

SAN JUAN — A Puerto Rico industry group, the United Retailers Center (CUD by its Spanish acronym) called on Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to urgently request the federal government, “specifically President Donald J. Trump, to issue the order to indefinitely exempt the island from the cabotage, or coastwise trade, law, known as the Jones Act.

“Amid the pandemic that is affecting the world economy, Puerto Rico suffers from the aggravating circumstance of remaining under cabotage laws, threatening the health of our country, since it will make all the products that reach Puerto Rico by sea, which is practically all of them, more expensive. We have spent years advocating for the end of these federal provisions that force Puerto Rico to use the United States merchant marine exclusively and what is being promoted is to produce transportation options to lower costs,” said Dr. Jorge Argüelles, president of the CUD.

“At this point in the 21st century, no one should oppose that. Every Puerto Rican family can feel the effect of the increase in the cost of both the basic [food] basket and the limitation on products for their health and safety. The United States today is suffering the pandemic emergency and it can barely produce what is necessary for the health of citizens who live there. Therefore, we will suffer that chain effect here due to cabotage laws,” added Argüelles.

The executive stressed that Puerto Rico needs to acquire medical equipment and medications, as well as other essential products.

“We are facing an emergency that has already [infected] a million…and it would be a crime to have to overpay to buy what is needed, in addition to not knowing whether [the supplies ordered] will arrive. If anyone had doubts about the importance of requesting exemption from the laws cabotage, this is the moment of truth. We do not want to run into a worse crisis in a few days,” said Argüelles.

The administrative exemption requested from Trump would be granted under current laws, “amid the imminent need for security (46 U.S.C. § 501 (b))” of the millions of people in Puerto Rico, “as was done” during Hurricane Maria. For this emergency, the CUD argued, the exemption “must be indefinite” due to the ever-changing developments related to the pandemic, “apart from the fact that transportation by American ships is 151% more expensive,” the group said.

The CUD also pointed to a letter from the Department of Justice regarding the “potential to create a monopoly, were the merger” between Tote Maritime and Empresas Luis Ayala Colón “to be completed, which would give them control of the ports and possibly the price” of merchandise.

“We must add the risk factor to the monopoly they seek here. Almost everything enters through a single port, which could well be closed by COVID-19. It is necessary to prevent the concentration of these two companies that have more than 80% and one already reported yesterday employees testing positive to the virus. Let’s take the pertinent measures to avoid worse consequences while being able to take action in time,” Argüelles concluded.

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