European shipowners have set out their priorities for Brexit, saying it is a process fraught with many uncertainties and that the current operating climate should be preserved.
The European Community Shipowners' Associations (ECSA) highlights that free movement of goods and people is central to E.U. Legislation.
“European shipowners strongly believe that to the extent possible, E.U. and U.K. should aim for conformity in legislation relating to maritime affairs”, said ECSA Secretary General Patrick
Verhoeven. “It should really be recognized as a guiding objective for the Brexit negotiations.”
Maritime state aid guidelines form an essential part of the E.U. Policy framework, and as the U.K. will most likely no longer be bound by E.U. guidelines, shipowners are concerned about their continued competitiveness. With a possible new, attractive shipping center just across the Channel, there is ever more reason to look at the E.U.’s shipping policy and ensure the E.U. remains a competitive location for shipping companies to do business, says Verhoeven.
He says the U.K. flag’s compatibility with tonnage tax in E.U. countries should be given attention, so that ships currently registered in the U.K. by E.U. shipowners are not penalized.
ECSA is calling for frictionless traffic by sea between the U.K. And the E.U. Around half of U.K. exports and imports are to and from the E.U., and most are carried on ships. Since the removal of customs and health controls at U.K. and E.U. Ports in 1993, traffic volumes across both over and under the Dover Strait rose from one million lorries in 1992 to four million in 2015 (a 300 percent increase). A return to the old situation by imposing extensive border procedures would cause heavy congestion in these ports that have simply no free space for lorries or trailers to be held pending clearance, says ECSA.
Another key priority for E.U. shipowners is the free movement of seafarers and company staff. ECSA says that seafarers from other countries employed on E.U. or U.K. vessels should be granted easy access to the U.K. Also, E.U. or U.K. citizens travelling by sea should be able to continue to do so in a smooth way, without adding any heavy procedures such as visa applications.
ECSA would like to see continued market access to domestic shipping trades and the offshore sector. “The U.K.’s domestic and offshore market is open. Likewise, E.U. markets are fully open. This reciprocal market access should be preserved,” says Verhoeven.
E.U. companies are active on the U.K.’s continental shelf and carry out intra-U.K. port calls. E.U. shipowners are worried by calls from U.K. interests to reserve or favour activities on domestic trades and in the offshore segment to U.K. nationals and/or U.K. flagged vessels. ECSA says particular attention should be paid to the second U.K. overseas registries (Cayman Islands, Isle of Mann, etc.), as well as to the U.K. registry of Gibraltar in order to clarify the status of these registries in relation to cabotage regulations.
In the longer term, negotiations should respect the need for a level playing field for E.U. and U.K. shipping, says ECSA. “Brexit increases the importance of avoiding regional regulatory measures for shipping. As a global business shipping needs global rules and common standards, and ECSA calls on the European Commission, Members States and the U.K. to cooperate closely in the IMO.”