There are two basic points of view about getting rid of the Jones Act - it will bring to the United States either a Third-World economy or an economic boom - and port officials here got an earful of both.

The 1920 law limits domestic water transport to U.S.-manned and built ships. Some say that protects U.S. jobs. Others say that protectionism is unrealistic in a global marketplace.Champions of both viewpoints clashed here this week during a panel discussion at the American Association of Port Authorities annual meeting.

Stanley H. Barer, co-chairman of Totem Resource Corp., which handles cargo to and from Alaska, told AAPA members that if the Jones Act is repealed, the United States might as well "go all the way" and repeal the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, child labor laws, the minimum wage and the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

"No doubt, you can save money that way, but you can't save the country that way," he said.

However, Rob Quartel, president of the Jones Act Reform Coalition, argued that the Jones Act is inhibiting economic growth.

One small coastal freighter carrying 100 20-foot containers, trading for a year, creates 77 new jobs on shore, in ports and related industries, he said, citing a Maritime Administration study.

While Mr. Quartel said U.S. seafarers are overpaid when compared with foreign seafarers, Mr. Barer said American mariners aren't overpaid when compared with their counterparts in the rail, trucking and air industries.

In addition, he said, 50 percent of their wages go to taxes, Social Security and other expenses, which foreign seafarers do not pay.

Mr. Quartel said he knew his views were unpopular with some members of the audience.

"I think you're way off base," and advocate a "dangerous, bad social policy" that would bring "a Third-World status of living and Third-World relationships between employers and employee inside this nation," Mr. Barer said.

Totem is affiliated with Foss Maritime, a century-old company that has second- and third-generation tug captains in its employ.

"I know their wives and children. If you think I can go to these people and say, 'You're fired' - well, making money is not worth doing that, at least not to me," Mr. Barer said.

Abolishing the Jones Act has the support of some Midwest members of Congress, who represent farmers who get grain subsidies.

"I'm not against the farmers or the farm program," Mr. Barer said, "but I don't hear farmers saying, 'Let's fire U.S. farmers and bring in foreign farmers and exempt them from U.S. laws.' "

Mr. Quartel said he would do away with farm subsidies as well as the Jones Act.

"The Jones Act is not a subsidy," Mr. Barer said. "Yes, it is," Mr. Quartel responded.

Amid the impromptu debate between Mr. Barer and Mr. Quartel, representatives of Guam and Corpus Christi, Texas, said abolishing the Jones Act would benefit their ports. Meanwhile, a representative of the Seaway Port Authority of Duluth challenged Mr. Quartel's facts, then said he would stop talking before his blood pressure got too high.

Mr. Barer said, "I'm not saying (the act) works all the time, but it's better than the alternative."

"The Jones Act industry is afraid to lift a corner of this tent - they're afraid the whole edifice will come down - that should tell you something," Mr. Quartel said. "My plea to you is to be rational - and it will not bring Third-World labor to the U.S."

Davis Helberg, AAPA chairman and executive director of the Port of Duluth, said the AAPA's U.S. legislative policy committee discussed cabotage laws on Monday and "planted both feet in midair and took no position."