In the coming weeks, Senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will have a choice to make: Give a $75 million subsidy to the maritime shipping industry, or ensure that several million people in impoverished and war-torn countries have food to eat.
At issue is how the Senate will address a provision quietly tucked into the House-approved version of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act. The obscure provision would raise the percentage of U.S. food aid that is required to be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels from 50 to 75 percent. This would effectively deny 2 million people in countries like Haiti, South Sudan and the Central African Republic access to lifesaving U.S. food assistance.
As a former agriculture secretary for President Bill Clinton and a former USAID administrator for President Ronald Reagan, we’ve seen firsthand the effectiveness of U.S. food aid while also witnessing the inefficiencies of its delivery.
The truth is, it costs dramatically more to ship food on U.S.-flagged vessels than on vessels otherwise available. According to the USAID, the change would add $75 million to ocean shipping costs. This increase would, in turn, reduce the amount of U.S. food aid going to hungry people, which is precisely why Congress lowered the “cargo preference” to 50 percent just two years ago.
Proponents of cargo preference requirements argue that increasing the percentage to 75 percent would support “military readiness” by providing more subsides to a domestic fleet of U.S.-flagged cargo vessels. That position, however, is not supported by the facts.