Survival of the European maritime technology sector depends on a firm stance from the EU
“The European Commission needs to adopt a strong industrial and manufacturing policy based on reciprocity, otherwise our European maritime technology industry won’t survive competition from Asian shipyards,” warned Marian Krzaklewski, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on the LeaderSHIP strategy, adopted at its plenary session on 19 April.
The EESC urges the Commission to step up the LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy’s roll-out and put forward key recommendations for the sector’s new LeaderSHIP 2030 strategy.
“Europe needs a specific approach for the shipbuilding and marine equipment manufacturing industry. Like China, the US, Japan and South Korea, European decision-makers must treat it as a strategic sector in Europe’s economy”, underlined co-rapporteur Patrizio Pesci.
In the EESC’s view, such an approach must include
· In terms of trade:
o Efforts to conclude a comprehensive OECD agreement – including China – which would set out rules on subsidies, potentially also pricing discipline;
o Reciprocity between Europe and third countries as a guiding principle in both bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, and issues linked to market access. “Protectionist measures need to be countered with the same means,” says the EESC;
· In terms of financing:
o Since the shipbuilding industry requires large amounts of capital, but access to financing is becoming increasingly difficult, the Commission should consider introducing a specific financial instrument that would enhance investment in this capital risk-intensive sector.
· In terms of development (research/skills):
o Environmental protection, safety and security, as well as digitalisation, automation, cybersecurity or the internet of things pose major challenges for the European MT sector but also offer interesting opportunities, provided sufficient capacity for research, development and innovation is available. The Commission therefore needs to promote and – also financially – support investments in the European MT sector in the area of RDI.
o Furthermore, there is a strong need to rectify skills shortages. Therefore the Commission should provide substantial support to the social partners in the shipbuilding sector enabling them to continue their work at the European Skills Council for the Maritime Technology Sector.
· In terms of strategy:
o The Commission should ensure that the maritime defence industry forms one of the pillars of the follow-up to the LeaderSHIP strategy.
The European maritime technology (MT) sector is a key industrial sector for Europe and – despite the many difficulties the sector has been confronted with, especially since the economic crisis – it is in relatively good shape. However, 2016 had not been a good year on the order book globally and even worse may still come, as a result of both protectionist policies from East Asian competitors and financial support for their own industry.
In its recent official documents (“Made in China 2025”), China has announced its ambition to become the world’s leading producer of high-end ships, including cruise ships and high-tech marine equipment – currently a branch where European shipbuilders and maritime equipment manufacturers are market leaders. This will put even more pressure on one of Europe’s key industrial sectors.
The European maritime technology industry sector includes all businesses involved in the design, construction, maintenance and repair of vessels and other maritime structures. There are around 300 European shipyards which have an annual turnover of approximately EUR 31 billion and employ 200 000 people.
Some 22 000 large, small and medium-sized companies produce and supply marine equipment, generating an annual turnover of approximately EUR 60 billion. They directly employ over 350 000 people. Their share of the global market is about 50%.
The European maritime technology sector invests 9% of its profits from sales in research, development and innovation – the highest rate of investment in RDI to be found in Europe.
Source: European Economic and Social Committee