The interruption of food exports caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spawned two concurrent resolutions on Capitol Hill proposing that cargo preferences reserving food aid for transport by the U.S. merchant fleet be suspended. The thinking is that in the current emergency, there should be no impediments to moving food aid overseas expeditiously. However, no such impediments actually exist: USAID has the latitude to waive cargo preference requirements for food aid if U.S.-flag ships are not available, or cost too much to use. Any legislated effort to eliminate cargo preferences would further reduce the incentives for U.S. vessels to continue operating in international commerce. The U.S.-flag fleet has shrunk steadily in recent years, to a point where there might not be sufficient tonnage or crews to support the military in an overseas campaign. That would mean depending on foreign operators to meet sealift needs in a war, who might not be inclined to take on the dangerous task of carrying equipment into war zones. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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