With President Donald Trump's 100th day just completed, the trend towards protectionism continues, but Congress has not passed legislation that would convert the president's most protectionist ideals into law. Even so, there are common objectives among the two branches. Both the president and Congress seem keenly aware that certain aspects of the U.S. infrastructure are in desperate need of upgrades. For instance, the White House and Congress, at different times, have noted the need to help ports and marine terminals invest to ensure that the broader economy remains strong. In this administration, the U.S. maritime industry remains topical.
At the agency level, however, the first 100 days have been a mix of rhetoric, change and confusion, all of which comes with any presidential transition as the agencies adjust to their new chief executive. Some agency activities have raised more concern than others. As an example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) revocation of decades of CBP ruling letters remains a contentious issue, with no clear indication of how CBP will reconcile the realities of the offshore industry, constituent compliance, and its policy position both internally and with the White House. The CBP revocation sits at the cross roads of protectionism, oil and gas industry needs, environmental security and federal regulation – with each begging for a greater weight in the regulatory balancing act. CBP's position over the past several decades suggested that the balance had been struck, yet here we are in another flurry of comments – for the third time in as many presidents.
Given President Trump's broad goals of protecting U.S. interests, it will not be surprising to see more agency-level activity that fleshes out protectionist goals when and where the executive branch can push. Larger, more complex goals will obviously require congressional buy-in, but that is not far-fetched for many of the more prominent maritime concerns. For instance, the idea of supporting maritime infrastructure investment – in particular, sea ports and their terminals – appears to be within reach, with long-term port and terminal infrastructure needs percolating to the top. As we noted prior to his inauguration (see Holland & Knight's alert, "Sailing with the Trump Transition: Cargo, Cabotage and Maritime Infrastructure in 2017," Jan. 5, 2017), President Trump has more than two centuries of challenging history to consider in drafting his policy and structuring his programs. For most of those atop the maritime industry's wish list, he will need Congress to support him.