European shipowners organised an event in the European Parliament on 29 November where logistics and regulatory challenges and opportunities in Africa were discussed with speakers and panelists with experience and knowledge of the region. Speakers at the event include the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development, representatives of the European Commission and the European External Action Service, Members of the European Parliament and several shipping companies.
MEP Hilde Vautmans (ALDE) hosted the event. “Trade can’t exist without shipping and vice-versa. Now is the perfect time to discuss what challenges and opportunities shipping faces in Africa and take action before barriers become more challenging. Partnerships enable trade and I believe the European Commission should take this into account in all the negotiations, including trade and development, that it carries out with the region”.
During the discussions it became clear that infrastructure represents the main challenge. Investments are needed to access ports from sea, in the ports, as well as the hinterland connections. However, as the UNCTAD representative pointed out, infrastructure investment has doubled in the past decade in Africa and by 2040 trade is expected to grow sevenfold. This infrastructure challenge cannot be seen in isolation but goes hand in hand with regulatory and governance challenges. Huge investments in ports are not having any impact if for example governments increase hugely and suddenly taxation on transport. Other challenges are linked to safety and security, as well as skills.
In the panel, MEP Christofer Fjellner (EPP) said “Partnership agreements with Africa are immensely important in creating stronger trade links. Shipping enables trade and that is why shipping and maritime sector needs more of our attention”.
ECSA Secretary General Patrick Verhoeven said: “Given the EU-Africa Summit in November 2017, the European Shipping Year 2017 and the planned review of the ACP-EP Partnership Agreement (Cotonou agreement) in 2020, there is a strong political momentum to continue the dialogue with Africa, the EU and private companies and seek for partnership agreements. It is positive that African partners are looking at opportunities of the “blue” economy”.
Concerning the EU’s role, Koen Doens, Director at the Directorate-General for International cooperation and Development of the European Commission, said: “In line with the High Representative, Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini’s strategy to strengthen economic diplomacy as part of EU foreign policy, the EU Delegations’ role around the world is mapping out economic realities outside the EU, how markets and industries are evolving, and promoting EU’s economic interests abroad and enabling trade contacts. More work needs to be done to strengthen the EU’s role and image in the world. Together with EU private partners, we have a strong business case, and we need to make that more forcefully.”