This video claims that “Goods cannot be transported from other countries that are not the United States directly to Puerto Rico.”
“I’m not 100% sure what the law is called or how it exactly works,” the YouTuber says, “but I do know that goods cannot be transported from other countries that are not the United States directly to Puerto Rico.”
He goes on to say that “Because we are a U.S. territory, we cannot trade directly with other countries. We can only trade directly with the United States.” This section of the video ends at 2:40 and he goes on to discuss other issues.
It is true that he does not know what the law is called or how it works, but it is not true that goods can’t be transported directly to Puerto Rico.
The Jones Act
The law this YouTuber has in mind is the Jones Act. Officially, it’s the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, named for Sen. Wesley Jones of Washington.
The Jones Act says, among other things, that goods moved from one U.S. port to another U.S. port — say from Miami to San Juan — must travel on U.S. boats. Ships bringing goods from Miami to Puerto Rico, or from San Francisco to Oahu, for that matter, must be made in the United States, must fly American flags, and must be crewed primarily by Americans.
That does not mean, as the YouTuber suggests, that a ship from the Dominican Republic would have to stop in Miami before going to San Juan. It actually means that a ship from the Dominican Republic can not go to Miami to pick up goods and then take them to San Juan.
In 2017, 60% of cargo ships entering the port of San Juan were foreign ships. The United States is Puerto Rico’s top trading partner, and some 43% of goods imported into Puerto Rico come from the United States. However, more than 23% of imports to Puerto Rico come from Ireland, and Japan is also an important trading partner. It just isn’t true that foreign ships can’t bring goods into Puerto Rico.
What’s the point of the Jones Act?
The purpose of the Jones Act was to make sure that the United States continues to have a shipping industry. Sen. Jones said that at the beginning of World War I, the United States didn’t have the ships or the trained sailors needed for the war effort. Since foreign shippers were able to do the job more cheaply, the American shipping industry had virtually shut down.
For the sake of the nation’s defense, he said, it was essential that he U.S. shipping industry be supported. American shipbuilders and sailors would only be available when needed for defense if they could make a living during peacetime. Therefore, the Jones Act supports the U.S. merchant marine or shipping industry.
“Because we are a U.S. territory, we cannot trade directly with other countries,” the YouTuber claims. “We can only trade directly with the United States.” This is not true. Puerto Rico, as a U.S. possession, must follow the terms of the Jones Act. This will not change if Puerto Rico becomes a state. It is not specific to Puerto Rico. It is true for all U.S. ports. A foreign ship can travel to U.S. ports, but cannot carry goods from one U.S. port to another. This is not a limitation on trade, but on ships.
This YouTuber lives in Dubai
We won’t comment on the rest of the video. People are entitled to their own opinions and we believe in free speech. But we do not believe that misinformation should be encouraged. People believe a lot of false things about Puerto Rico. This is one of them.
Confusion and misinformation slow down our progress toward statehood. We try to make sure that people have easy access to the facts of the matter. Please consider reaching out to your congressional reps and making sure that they understand why Puerto Rico should not be forced to continue as an unincorporated territory of the United States.
While it is true that foreign cargo vessels can trade in Puerto Rico, they cannot go to another US port following the Puerto Rico port. This is the limitation. I find very strange your quote based on 2017 ocean cargo. Perhaps that quote is biased due to the Maria hurricane when Puerto Rico was accepting cargo from many other countries. But again, none of those ships were able to follow a US port after docking in Puerto Rico. I seem to remember that there was an effort to void the Jones Act during the Hurricane Maria relief effort and perhaps this is also squeing these figures. I would like to know the proportion of foreign vessels docking in Puerto Rico now, not in 2017. I would be safe to state that this number would be much less than the 60% figure you provided.
Great point. We try to work with reliable statistics and we could not find any current numbers for the proportion of cargo ships from the US compared with foreign ships. However, we did find a listing of the current ships in port. Of the 14 cargo ships listed, only two are U.S. ships. This is a snapshot, nothing more, but it supports the statistics we’ve seen elsewhere. If you find better data, we will be happy to share it.