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Brussels must work with European shipping to promote market access, urges ECSA president

Date: 10/03/2015

Europe must play its role as an international trade partner, says Rehder

The European shipping industry needs to work with the European Union to ensure free trade agreements remain in place if it is to grow its way out of the retrenchment of the past seven years.

European Community Shipowner Associations president Thomas Rehder told Lloyd’s List that maintaining a level playing field for shipping was a critical for competitiveness and that the EU had an important role to play in that.

“We are looking to Europe to play its role as an international trade partner,” Mr Rehder said.

“The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is one example, but there are many areas in the world where there are market restrictions for shipping and where the EU has a political clout and power that it can use to the benefit of the shipping industry. This is one are where we can work together with EU officials.”

The offshore market in the US that falls under the Jones Act and is not open to European shipping. That is an area where Mr Rehder would like to see change.

“A European company is not allowed to own more than 25% of a US-flagged ship. That is a field that needs to be opened if we are to expand the market for European shipping,” he said.

“Likewise, 80% of transport within the North American Free Trade Agreement area is overland and not by sea. So there is potentially a very big market that can be opened for shipping and for European shipping.

“I don’t think we can overturn the Jones Act but we may be able to pierce the Jones Act in very limited areas. Why should liner companies set up their hubs in Jamaica to do international feedering from there rather than a port in the US? I think that would benefit the US as much as it would generate opportunities for Europe.”

Mr Rehder said opening up the Jones Act to some degree would create employment and business for the US as much as it would create business for Europe.

“The carriage of international bill of lading cargo in areas that are covered by the Jones Act is a real interest for European liner companies. It would create business for the European lines and for charterers,” he said.

“We have a commission that is negotiating TTIP and should give them some material to defend European companies.”

Mr Rehder’s calls were supported by Swedish MEP Christopher Fjellner, who said that free trade was the most important issue for shipping.

“Right now we have a huge debate across Europe about the free trade negotiations with the US. The negotiations are going well but the debate is not going well.”

Increasingly protectionist policies were threatening to close down free trade negotiations, Mr Fjeller said.

“We managed to get an agreement with Canada but that has not even been put to the European Parliament yet because we are afraid that there are protectionists in Europe that might stop the agreement,” he said. “That is the bigger threat if we let the protectionists win.”

Europe had been successful in shipping because it had an outward looking attitude. “If we change that to being more protectionist, the first line of business that will suffer from that will be shipping.”

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