Rising protectionism threatens global shipping, ICS says

The negative impact of protectionism is seen as one of the biggest emerging threats to global shipping.

Courtesy of ICS

On June 13, 2024, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the Chamber of Marine Commerce, Canada (CMC) convened over 120 industry leaders to the flagship “Shaping the Future of Shipping Summit: Weathering the Storms” in Montreal, Canada.

The summit centered on the unique challenges the maritime sector faces, including the aftermath of the pandemic, strikes, global geopolitical conflicts, decarbonization, the human element and the impact of climate change, all having a significant impact.

Industry leaders who participated in the summit called on governments to recognize the negative impacts to global trade that increased protectionism is having.

“We are at a critical time in shipping…we are experiencing an unprecedented threat to free trade. The number of unilateral barriers to trade being imposed by countries is increasing exponentially. Now I understand that the intentions of such barriers may be well meaning, but the reality is that trade is increasingly being weaponised as nations seek to obtain greater economic advantage or achieve political aims,” Emanuele Grimaldi, International Chamber of Shipping Chairman, stressed.

“Shipping is responsible for transporting over fourteen trillion dollars’ worth of goods each year. And each trade barrier that is placed on shipping has a magnifying effect that will negatively impact global trade and ultimately reduce growth for all. The failure of global institutions like the World Trade Organization further exacerbate this issue as we need strong institutions to facilitate efficient and cost-effective trade between nations.”

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“ICS commissioned the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to look at this issue [protectionism] back in 2021 and they found that cutting restrictive trade policies could boost the global economy by over 3% points. The report also found that high-income countries could see an average increase of 4.5% percent in their goods exports if they were to loosen tariff and non-tariff restrictions on trade. Developing economies would experience an even greater increase, of seven percent if they reduced their restrictions in a ‘modest and equal’ way. Over two trillion dollars of world imports are being affected by constraints like these, that is equivalent to the annual GDP of Canada,” Grimaldi stated.

“Since this report was published, we have seen the introduction of new unilateral regulations and taxes that negatively impact trade. The EU ETS and the CBAM proposals in Europe have created systems that impact free trade. Europe and the United States are also proposing to place massive tariffs on electric vehicles made in China, all at a time when we are asking the world to move to electric cars.  Some in the United States are even considering placing a tariff on ships calling at US ports just because they are built in China. And of course, our members in the tanker sector are having to manage the imposition of sanctions on behalf of governments in response to the dreadful attack on the Ukraine by Russia.”

This rising tide of protectionism creates more complexity for our industry and cost for our customers. The last thing we need at this time is a trade war, but protectionism is on the rise,” Grimaldi concluded.

“At a time when the world already faces significant challenges including the race to net zero and labour availability, protectionism just results in self-inflected wounds,” Bruce Burrows, President and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said.