Report: 91 Countries Maintain Cabotage Laws


November 2018


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Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), an independent center for mariner advocacy and research, has released its full report – “Cabotage Laws of the World” – on the findings of their global cabotage study. The study, commissioned by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), provides the first independent analysis of maritime cabotage laws since the early 1990s.


Based on extensive research involving 140 countries, the SRI report reveals that 91 countries representing 80 percent of the world’s coastal United Nations Maritime States have cabotage laws restricting foreign maritime activity in their domestic coastal trades.


Merriam-Webster defines cabotage as “trade or transport in coastal waters or airspace or between two points within a country.”


ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair David Heindel, who also serves as the SIU’s secretarytreasurer, said, “The lack of accurate facts on cabotage laws around the world has been an impediment for policymakers considering implementing cabotage laws. This report represents a circuit breaker, providing policymakers with the relevant facts for proper decision-making. The SRI report debunks the myth that cabotage is an exception, not the rule. Laws governing maritime activity are widespread, currently existing in 91 countries covering 80 percent of the world’s coastlines of U.N. maritime states. We know there are a number of countries considering introducing, strengthening or diminishing cabotage regulation. This report will assure those governments that it makes sense to enforce national cabotage laws.”


Some of the key findings of the study include:


- Cabotage laws are diverse, with a range of approaches taken by different countries regarding virtually every aspect of them. There is great diversity in the interpretation, administration and enforcement.


- Stated objectives of cabotage include: maintain national security; promote fair competition; develop human capacity; create jobs; enhance marine environmental protection; promote ship ownership; increase safety and security of ships in port; and preserve maritime knowledge and technology.


- Cabotage laws have endured for centuries, but continue to evolve. Cabotage is not subject to a single definition accepted as binding on all states under international law. Regional and national definitions of cabotage vary widely.


Deirdre Fitzpatrick, executive director of SRI, explained, “For many people, maritime cabotage, or coasting, coastwise or coastal trade as it is sometimes referred to, is understood, if at all, only vaguely. This is not surprising, since so little is published on the subject. This was a complex project, given language and cultural barriers and difficulties in statutory interpretations. But the subject is important. It affects a very wide range of trades, services and activities around the world, and with significant social and economic consequences. Policymakers especially need to know more about the subject.”


During a presentation given at the Maritime Trades Department’s winter meeting in March 2018, Fitzpatrick praised America’s cabotage law, the Jones Act. “The Jones Act is often referred to as a model cabotage law: protecting jobs, the workforce, and the country,” she said. “But to protect the Jones Act, and to protect other cabotage laws around the world, it can only be helpful to know which countries have cabotage protections so that, in fact, the situation might be that the protection of cabotage laws is the norm, and it’s not the exception.”


Jim Given, chair of the ITF Cabotage Task Force and President of the Seafarers Union of Canada, said, “The benefits of cabotage laws are self-evident. For countries that depend on the sea for their trade, cabotage safeguards their own strategic interests as maritime nations, bringing added economic value while also protecting national security and the environment. Cabotage provides jobs for a country’s seafarers and also safeguards foreign seafarers against exploitation posed by the liberalization in the global shipping industry, preventing a race to the bottom. Without strong cabotage rules, local workers often have to compete with cheap, exploited foreign labor on flag-of-convenience vessels, the owners of which usually pay substandard wages and flout safety laws.”


“The United States is, and always has been, a maritime nation,” said Matt Woodruff, chairman of the American Maritime Partnership. “From the very founding of our country, the American maritime industry has served a critical role in maintaining our national, homeland and economic security. For policymakers that work to promote a strong and vibrant economy and national security leaders charged with protecting the U.S. security posture, this comprehensive study reinforces the importance of cabotage laws – like the Jones Act – and the historical legislative actions taken to support maritime industries across the globe, including in nations like Russia, China and South Korea.”


The full report is available on SRI’s website.


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