ECSA: European shipping is central to the success of EU's new trade strategy

24 Feb 2021

With the launch of the European Commission's Trade Policy Review published last week, the EU is setting a new course for a stronger role in the new global context.

"Shipping accounts for 76% of the EU’s external trade so the value of shipping to the European economy cannot be underestimated," said Martin Dorsman, ECSA's Secretary-General. "As the main conveyor of trade, shipping has a keen interest in the EU’s trade policy as a major economic bloc and actor on the global stage including at the WTO. Shipping needs global trade and global trade cannot exist without shipping.

Despite the challenges of the current global pandemic, shipping has managed to keep goods moving but can only serve world trade if the right policy framework is in place. As economies and industries bounce back from the pandemic, this new strategy provides further impetus to restore an open, fair and sustainable global trading system.

“EU shipowners control almost 40% of the global shipping tonnage, connecting industries and consumers and ensuring supplies around the world and within the EU. With European shipping being so crucial to the success of the new trade strategy,  ECSA looks forward to engage with regulators in the implementation of this strategy in view of fostering the competitiveness of the sector and ultimately the economic recovery of Europe,” continued Mr Dorsman.

ECSA supports the strategy’s priority to reform the WTO to ensure it remains the core forum to negotiate further trade liberalisation and resolve disputes. We congratulate the newly appointed director-general of the organisation, Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and encourage WTO members to look towards the resumption of multilateral negotiations on maritime transport services.

Maritime transport services are the enabler of world trade and although the sector enjoys a high degree of liberalisation, further protectionism cannot be ruled out. Shipping companies need to freely and commercially contract and carry goods or perform various shipping services around the world without local discrimination or restrictions.

ECSA also supports the EU’s renewed focus on the implementation and enforcement of EU trade agreements which are highly valued by the EU shipping industry. By anchoring clear commitments on maritime transport in legally binding instruments, the EU creates the certainty that EU shipping companies need to seize new opportunities.

Mr Dorsman added: “We encourage the EU to keep being ambitious when negotiating new principles about shipping in trade agreements, being open to new developments and growing segments in the industry and around the world.

As an industry committed to decarbonisation, the European shipping industry also recognises the EU's ambition to contribute to global progress on sustainability and responsible supply chains through its trade policy. In order for these efforts to succeed, it is crucial that sustainability in trade policy is well balanced and does not result in further protectionism or barriers to trade. 

The International Chamber of Shipping has just launched a new report, ‘Protectionism in Maritime Economies’ co-authored with Professor Craig Van Grasstek of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The report found that reducing trade protectionism could see GDP gains for national economies increase by up to 3.4%.

It is therefore crucial that the maritime sector is placed at the centre of the EU’s trade policy. ECSA calls on regulators to closely involve the shipping industry in these discussions going forward.