Shipping Industry Expresses Concern Over Recent Trade Developments

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Photo: By Robert Mandel / Shutterstock

The international shipping industry, as represented by multiple major shippowners’ associations, is concerned over recent trade developments, particularly increases in protectionist measures which add a significant burden and cost to the free movement of goods.

The concerns were expressed by a delegation made of up representatives from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Asian Shipowners’ Association (ASA) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva.

Presenting two position papers to the WTO, the shipping sector has “fully committed to the preservation and promotion of free trade policies and principles around the world.”

The position papers come at a time when trade barriers are becoming more prevalent and represent a worrying trend for the delivery of sustainable economic growth, the delegation members said in a joint press release.

The papers highlight that, since 2017, there has been a seven-fold increase in import-restrictive trade measures, representing an additional US$588.3 billion of additional costs to global trade. Research has also identified 137 new trade-restrictive measures put in place between 2017 and 2018, which have “added significant burden and cost to the free movement of goods. Making matters worse, the decision by the United States of America to increase import tariffs on certain goods from China has given “heightened relevance” to the situation.

Addressing the WTO Simon Bennett, ICS Deputy Secretary General said: “It is no coincidence that the massive growth in the global economy and thus the demand for maritime services that has been seen over the past 25 years has followed the WTO’s establishment in 1995. Global maritime trade now exceeds ten billion tonnes of cargo a year, but the efficiency of the shipping sector is dependent on a rules based trading system. This requires the negotiation and adherence to multilateral trade agreements under the auspices of the WTO. Recently this success story has been the subject of unwarranted criticism and threat by certain governments, including the United States, undermining the WTO’s role as the regulator of international trade. There are no winners when you increase unilateral tariffs, which is why the best place to address disputes is at the WTO.”

Speaking in the margins of the WTO negotiations on e-commerce, Lieselot Marinus, Director of Shipping & Trade Policy at ECSA said: “We are concerned at the growth of sector specific protectionist measures, particularly cargo reservation whereby the carriage of international cargoes is restricted to national flag ships, undermining fair competition and a global level playing field.”

Captain Ang Chin Eng, Secretary General of the ASA added: “The global shipping sector is calling on the global community and WTO Member States to continue to support the WTO and its various functions, which help to govern and maintain the efficient operation of global trade in the best interests of all nations.”

ICS, ASA and ECSA, representing the shipping industry which is responsible for the carriage of about 90% of world trade, asserted that the shipping sector still needs to see progress being made under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Shipowners are encouraging WTO Member States to ensure that bilateral agreements and regional agreements – including those which relate to shipping and maritime transport services – do not conflict with their current national schedules of commitments, as agreed within the framework of the WTO.