Shipping has weathered the storm amid the rise in nationalism and protectionist policies around the world, was the key message of speakers at the latest ICS Leadership Insights series, discussing the importance of maritime trade in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Amb Tan Hung Seng, Singpore Permanent Representative to WTO & WIPO said that the short-term impact of COVID-19 has been “devastating and has accentuated economic populism” as fears of shortages in essential medical and food supplies led to export restrictions and onshoring. According to Mr. Tan Hung Seng, global merchandise trade shrunk by around 20% in 2020 while services trade dropped approximately 24%.
And the prospects of improvement will remain subdued as economies take time to recover. However, I am hopeful that the pandemic will not lead to a wholesale rejection of rules-based multilateral trading system. As we are fast realising, COVID-19 knows no boundaries and continues to rage globally, one year on. No one is truly safe until everyone is safe, and– this is a powerful reminder for us of the merits and necessity of international cooperation and collaboration,
The discussions follow release of an ICS report last week, assessing protectionist/restrictive trade policies and measures that are currently being implemented by governments worldwide.
Current figures show that the pandemic is pushing people, especially people in less developed countries, back into poverty. Protectionism from my point of view delivers the opposite from its promise; it reduces trade; it makes goods more expensive; it deprives people of work and food where it is needed. Less protectionism at the end means less poverty. The WTO, UNCTAD and many others have shown the positive effects of lifting trade barriers and we must not destroy these achievements with new protectionism in the face of COVID-19,
…added Ralf Nagel, CEO, German Shipowners Association, with this respect.
In opposition to protectionism, speakers advocated for the need to boost globalisation and multilateralism. Marco Marco Felisati, Deputy Director, International Affairs & Trade Policy, Confindustria, said:
The big elephant in the room that all the speakers have mentioned is multilateralism. The B20 has been striving over the past decade for further multilateral trading systems. Now it seems all G20 countries are sincerely committed to renew multilateral agreements. We have gone through years of harsh protectionism and unilateralism and we must admit there is still some mistrust that remains among governments.
A key concern during the discussion was the need to ensure developing countries can reap benefits from changes to global trade, from technological advancements around digitalisation and AI to advances in material technology.
On her part, Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology & Logistics, UNCTAD noted the maritime industry faces a “perfect storm” of three main challenges: COVID-19 and the fallout from the pandemic, the technological revolution and climate change.
Addressing trade related challenges requires leadership from politicians, organisations and the shipping industry. We will be partners in the difficult but necessary job that needs to be done,
…Ralf Nagel concluded.