Hope and determination are in the air this spring as we continue to make significant progress fighting Covid-19 and working toward widespread economic recovery. We are hearing a strong sense of optimism in conversations with NMMA members and industry stakeholders around the country, including at our recent annual advocacy summit, the 2021 American Boating Congress, held virtually this year.
After a record year for our industry, the manufacturing community hopes to keep up this momentum as we head into another busy boating season. In 2020, the number of first-time boat buyers rose for the first time in more than a decade, up 10 percent from 2019, and the overall sales of boats and other marine products and services rose to a 13-year high. Despite these major achievements, we need support in several core areas in Washington, D.C., to make our industry’s continued growth, job creation and economic contributions a reality.
This year, ABC came nearly 100 days into the Biden administration, with many economic and infrastructure priorities moving full-steam ahead and new leadership in place at key agencies, including leaders NMMA actively supported at the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. With these entities hitting the ground running, attention has now pivoted to critical policy conversations on trade, infrastructure and conservation that will have a strong impact on our members.
One of our top priorities at NMMA remains resolving the European Union’s 25 percent retaliatory tariff on recreational vessels, which is now slated to double June 1. These tariffs, which were born out of the global trade war in 2018, have already resulted in a 42 percent overall decline in U.S. exports to the E.U. over the last three years, making our nation’s manufacturers vulnerable and less competitive in the global marketplace.
The tariffs have also translated to fewer international customers and a significantly decreasing market share for U.S. marine manufacturers, creating barriers for the small- and medium-size companies that comprise our industry. Recreational boating is one of the few sectors that provided substantial economic impact to small coastal communities throughout the pandemic. Stunting its growth when communities are relying on a strong summer rebound is counterproductive to the expansion of both the industry and the economies it supports.
NMMA is working to correct the course of this detrimental trade policy. We are eager to work with the Biden administration to establish trade-policy solutions, reverse this increasingly damaging trade war and repair relationships that boost our American manufacturers. This has included outreach to White House staff and conversations with the Tariff Reform Coalition on the economic and social costs of this proposed increase.
Another top priority discussed at ABC was the dire need to update our Eisenhower-era infrastructure to sustain outdoor recreation’s role as a key economic driver, especially boating’s economic impact. However, despite surging demand, our outdoor recreation infrastructure is aging and cannot meet growing numbers of recreators or withstand the threat of environmental impacts.
Thankfully, the Biden administration’s proposed American Jobs Plan, which would invest $2 trillion in our country’s infrastructure and create millions of jobs, contains several recreational boating industry priorities. For instance, the plan outlines a call to maximize the resilience of land and water resources to protect communities and the environment. Proposed investments in programs that address climate change and strengthen manufacturing supply chains for critical goods are encouraging steps and will address pressing challenges that the broader marine manufacturing industry already faces.
While we were pleased to see the inclusion of the needs of ports and waterways, NMMA continues to work with the administration and Congress as they build proposals to ensure the final legislation addresses the outdoor recreation community’s access and infrastructure concerns.
Maintaining our recreation infrastructure goes hand in hand with conserving the natural resources that make such projects a worthy investment. Recreational anglers and boaters are America’s original environmentalists and directly contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to aquatic conservation and education programs each year.
At NMMA, we embrace the global biodiversity principles outlined in the “30 by 30” initiative, as well as combating the devastating effects of climate change by prohibiting destructive and extractive commercial activity in 30 percent of our nation’s oceans and land by 2030. However, we also believe 30 by 30 policies are most successful when they prioritize outdoor recreation access, helping to ensure the $788 billion outdoor economy — which is led by boating and fishing — can continue supporting millions of American jobs for generations to come.
Beyond trade, infrastructure and conservation, the recreational boating industry has a number of other longstanding priorities that NMMA continues to advance. These include responsible and sustainable access for recreational anglers, creating new incentives to support American-made marine manufacturing and addressing workforce challenges. We’re hopeful for positive change, and we’re determined to work with policymakers to resolve these ongoing challenges.
Although we’ve had a year of record growth and sales, legislative changes coming down the pike remind us that the industry must remain vigilant. If 2020 has foreshadowed anything, it’s that recreational boating will continue to prove its value and reinforce its role as a vital American pastime.
Nicole Vasilaros is senior vice president of government relations and legal affairs at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.