WASHINGTON – Rep. Ben Cardin joined a Florida Republican Wednesday in calling for a ban on foreign governments owning or operating American ports, even though the proposal would not affect the controversial $6.8 billion takeover of some U.S. port operations by the United Arab Emirates.
If passed, the Secure America’s Port Operations Act, introduced by Cardin, D-Baltimore, and Clay Shaw, R-Fla., the ranking member and chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee, respectively, would honor current contracts with foreign governments, but would prevent their renewal.
“We cannot make a mistake here,” Cardin said. “I just think that’s wrong. Common sense tells you that’s wrong.”
The bill doesn’t prohibit the purchase, scheduled to close today, that places the British Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which operates ports in Baltimore and New York, under control of the UAE.
A Senate bill also would ban foreign ownership of ports, but would block the pending sale as well. Both bills follow the beginning of a 45-day administrative review of the deal. The sale was initially approved by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which found no threat to national security.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have criticized the deal, claiming the U.A.E. has terrorist ties and connections to al-Qaida. Supporters have said the agreement enhances global trade and rescinding it would show a lack of confidence in a growing ally.
Cardin dismissed the rationale.
“I don’t think anyone can make the argument that the Unites States has not expanded global trade,” Cardin said. “Look at other countries, don’t look at us. We have the most open markets in the world.”
Both Shaw and Cardin said that blocking the sale would not hurt America’s relationship with UAE, and Cardin said the country’s role in global trade would not be jeopardized.
“The relationship is multi-faceted,” he said. “We have our differences and we have our similarities.
Shaw said the ban, which should be the start of a thorough investigation, applies to foreign governments, but not foreign businesses.
“Governments change, this is the real reason why we’re covering this,” said Shaw. He said it does not matter “whether you are the U.A.E. or the U.K.”
About 25,000 shipping containers arrive at American ports each day, but 5 percent are “physically searched,” United Press International reported.
Shaw denied that estimate, though he insisted that improved technology allows for some cargo to not be checked as thoroughly as others.
“If you were to inspect every piece of cargo you would bring trade to a halt,” he said.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Maryland’s congressional delegation have questioned the ports deal, with Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes writing letters to Department of Treasury Secretary John Snow. Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, and Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, have called for an investigation; while Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and Albert Wynn, D-Kennedyville, have said they oppose the deal. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, sits on the Armed Services Committee, which tomorrow is holding hearings on the deal.