ICS, ASA AND ECSA EXPRESS TRADE CONCERNS AT WTO

ICS, ASA and ECSA signed an MOU providing a framework for closer co-operation in Singapore in April. Credit: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) ICS, ASA and ECSA signed an MOU providing a framework for closer co-operation in Singapore in April. Credit: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA)

A delegation from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Asian Shipowners’ Association (ASA) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) expressed concern over recent increases in protectionist measures during a presentation 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 papers identified a seven-fold increase in import restrictive trade measures since 2017, representing USD588.3 billion of increased costs to global trade.

The papers were timely, given the reciprocal increases in bilateral import tariffs by the US and China announced in the last week. The trade associations identify rising trade barriers as a trend that threatens the delivery of sustainable economic growth. The major shipowners’ associations also reiterated their full support for the World Trade Organization as the regulator of international trade.

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.”

137 new trade-restrictive measures were put in place between 2017 and 2018 which have added significant burden and cost to the free movement of goods. 

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.”

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.

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