The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has called for maritime transport to be prioritised in multilateral trade negotiations ahead of high-level WTO meetings to take place this week.
While the 12th Ministerial Conference, where talks were to take place, has been indefinitely postponed due to the Omicron variant, a pared down schedule of meetings of WTO Ministers and governments will go ahead. Critical issues and challenges confronting the multilateral trading system and impacting the global economy will be discussed, including the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
In a briefing session with the business community, ahead of this week’s meetings, ICS urged WTO Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to pay closer attention to maritime transport in WTO trade initiatives and negotiations. Formal discussions on the liberalisation of maritime transport services at the WTO have been halted for several years and national governments’ commitments towards liberalisation of maritime services in previous negotiations lack legal certainty, leaving the industry in perpetual limbo.
Responding to the call by ICS, Dr Okonjo-Iweala, said: “With all the supply chain issues we experienced this year, there is increasing interest in the maritime transport sector, including the underlying issues leading to supply chain bottlenecks.
“We already met with some of the major shipping companies and next year we plan to hold a comprehensive dialogue with the entire sector, to gain a better understanding of these issues, what their difficulties were and what can be done to address it. This could lead to the WTO exploring other issues impacting the sector.”
Speaking ahead of the Ministerial meetings, Guy Platten, Secretary General at ICS, commented: “We are very encouraged by Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s message to the shipping industry at this meeting. There are many issues that unite ICS and the WTO, as the gatekeeper of free trade throughout the world, but none more so than our shared values and principles of open and unimpeded access to international markets. We look forward to engaging with her at the WTO in this comprehensive Dialogue that has been proposed for next year.”
The talks are hoped to build upon previous collaborations between the WTO and ICS, including a roundtable dialogue, ‘The Role of Maritime Transport in the Post-COVID Recovery’, which the two organisations co-hosted earlier this year, exploring findings from the ICS ‘Protectionism in Maritime Economies’ report.