Terms & Glossaries of Shipping and Trading


Cabotage refers to the transport of goods or passengers between two locations within the same country by a foreign transport operator. The term is primarily used in the context of maritime, aviation, and road transport. Cabotage laws and regulations vary widely across different countries, often reflecting national interests in protecting domestic industries and ensuring security.

Detailed Overview of "Cabotage" in Shipping

What is Cabotage?

Cabotage is the right to operate transport services within a particular territory. Specifically, it refers to the restriction or prohibition of foreign carriers from transporting goods or passengers between two points within a country's borders. The aim is to protect domestic transport industries from foreign competition and to maintain national security and economic stability.

Historical Context

The concept of cabotage originated in maritime law, where it was initially used to describe coastal shipping within a country's territorial waters. Over time, the concept has been extended to other modes of transportation, including aviation and road transport.

Types of Cabotage

1. Maritime Cabotage:

Refers to the transport of goods and passengers between ports within the same country by sea.
Often involves specific regulations and restrictions to ensure that domestic shipping companies retain a significant portion of coastal trade.

2. Aviation Cabotage:

Pertains to domestic flights operated by foreign airlines.
Most countries restrict foreign airlines from operating domestic routes to protect national carriers.

3. Road Transport Cabotage:

Involves the transport of goods by road within a country by a foreign trucking company.
Regulations are in place to control the frequency and conditions under which foreign trucks can perform domestic transport services.

Key Characteristics of Cabotage

1. Regulatory Framework:

Governed by national laws and regulations that specify the conditions under which foreign operators can participate in domestic transport markets.
Often includes requirements for permits, licenses, and adherence to local labor and safety standards.

2. Protectionism:

Designed to protect domestic transport industries from foreign competition.
Ensures that local companies maintain a significant share of the market.

3. Economic and Security Considerations:

Aims to preserve national security by limiting foreign control over critical transport infrastructure and services.
Supports the economic stability of domestic transport industries and associated employment.

Examples of Cabotage Regulations

1. United States (Jones Act):

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act, mandates that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed predominantly by U.S. citizens.
Aims to support the U.S. maritime industry and ensure a strong merchant marine for national defense.

2. European Union (EU Cabotage Regulation):

The EU allows cabotage operations within its member states under specific conditions.
Foreign road hauliers can perform up to three cabotage operations within seven days following an international delivery to another member state.

3. Canada:

Cabotage laws restrict domestic shipping to Canadian-flagged vessels.
Foreign vessels can only engage in domestic shipping under specific circumstances, usually requiring a waiver or exemption.

Impact of Cabotage

1. Economic Impact:

Supports the growth and sustainability of domestic transport industries.
Protects local jobs and promotes investment in national infrastructure.

2. Competitive Dynamics:

Limits foreign competition, which can sometimes lead to higher prices for consumers.
Encourages domestic companies to improve efficiency and service quality to remain competitive.

3. Security Considerations:

Enhances national security by maintaining control over key transport routes and services.
Reduces dependency on foreign operators, ensuring continuity of service in times of crisis.

4. Trade Relations:

Can lead to tensions in international trade relations, especially if perceived as overly protectionist.
Countries may negotiate bilateral agreements to relax cabotage restrictions and facilitate mutual market access.


Cabotage is a significant regulatory concept in the transportation sector, aimed at protecting domestic industries and ensuring national security. While it supports local economies and jobs, it also introduces challenges related to competition and market dynamics. Understanding cabotage regulations is essential for businesses involved in international transport, as compliance with these laws is crucial for operating within different jurisdictions. As global trade evolves, cabotage rules may continue to adapt, balancing protectionism with the benefits of increased competition and market access.