4th Feb 2023

EU announces maritime transport strategy

  • European shipping has come under enormous strain as a result of the economic crisis (Photo: EUobserver)

EU transport commissioner Antonio Tajani launched proposals for a new maritime transport strategy on Wednesday (21 January) at a time when the sector faces stiff competition during the economic downturn.

"The financial crisis and its impact on the maritime transport sector demands decisive action. We need to look ahead and provide answers to the many challenges we face today", said Mr. Tajani.

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Under the new proposals, measures simplifying customs procedures will be adopted this year and guidelines aimed at accelerating plant and animal checks will also be published.

Eighty percent of world trade is currently carried out across the seas, with the EU the world's largest exporter and second largest importer.

The 1986 Single European Act paved the way for a single market in Europe, yet the shipping industry has long complained that barriers and excessive red tape still exist. These have resulted in increased costs and time delays, forcing producers to opt for land transportation.

The proposals have been welcomed within the sector.

"We welcome the new EU strategy as a positive step for European shipping," Knud Pontoppidan, executive director of A.P. Moller-Maersk said in a statement to this website. A.P. Moller-Maersk is the parent company of Maersk Line, the current market leader in container shipping.

"We are also pleased that the strategy reflects the recommendations that the industry has put forward," said Mr Pontoppidan, who was rapporteur for an industry expert group widely consulted by the commission while drafting the plans.

Soaring commodity prices and world food shortages resulted in a boom period for shipping companies in 2007 and early 2008, with record prices being charged. But the financial crisis and ensuing economic downturn has placed the sector, which currently employs over 1.5 million people in Europe, under severe strain.

Jan Fritz Hansen, executive vice-president of the Danish Shipowners' Association, remained positive however: "We could come out the other side stronger," he said to this website in an interview, predicting further consolidation and new growth opportunities for those companies that do survive.

"In Europe, the competition keeps us on our toes," he said, pointing out that the Jones Act in the United States, legislation that limits foreign company participation in coastal transport, was frequently blamed for industry's poor international performance.

The new commission framework also stresses the importance of making maritime jobs more attractive to young people by improving life-long career prospects.

Likewise, it wants to promote greener solutions in maritime transport, safer working conditions for seafarers and stresses the need for an international regulatory framework for shipping so that all companies operate under the same rules.

"Regulation needs to take place on a global basis", said Mr Hansen, suggesting that the International Maritime Organisation was the correct body to carry this out, backed up by commission support.

The proposed strategy and ways to implement it will be discussed at a high-level European conference later this year.

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