Mon | Sep 28, 2020

CSA, WiMAC discuss Caribbean maritime sustainability in webinar

Published:Tuesday | July 28, 2020 | 12:00 AM

‘Facilitation of trade and transport – essential components of Caribbean maritime sustainability’ was the topic for discussion in the webinar jointly hosted by the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA) and the Women in Maritime Association Caribbean (WiMAC) on Tuesday, July 21 via Zoom. This was the latest in a series of scheduled webinars to update members of the CSA and their maritime partners on the newest developments in international and regional shipping and supply chain logistics.

‘A ROADMAP TO RECOVERY’

In his welcome address to over 100 online participants in last Tuesday’s webinar, CSA President Juan Carlos Croston noted that the CSA and WiMAC have a long history of collaboration and the webinar is “an example of how partners convert their MOUs (memoranda of understanding) on paper into real work in preparing a roadmap to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”.

In welcoming participants, Dwynette Eversley, president of WiMAC, described the CSA as a “big brother and ally” of her organisation, giving full support to their efforts at ensuring equal access and participation of women at all levels of the maritime industry. She expressed WiMAC’s thanks to the CSA for inviting WiMAC to be partners in hosting the webinar that provides a valuable forum for participants to gather useful and current information on shipping in the ‘new normal’ brought on by COVID-19.

Presenters at the webinar were Senator Lisa Cummins, chair of the Barbados Port Authority; Diane Quarless, director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) subregional headquarters; Jan Hoffman, chief of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – Trade Facilitation Section; Bernadette Lewis, secretary general of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union; and Chris Trelawny, acting director of the Technical Cooperation Division of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). They were introduced by Jennifer Nugent Hill of WiMAC, director of Tropical Shipping, who was the moderator of the webinar.

CARIBBEAN POLICY RESPONSE

Senator Cummins was the first presenter and she spoke on ‘Policy response for an enabling environment for sustaining maritime trade, transport and the blue economy’. She began by showing where the Caribbean was before the pandemic – facing regional economic growth of 1.8 per cent, experiencing record growth in cruise shipping and growth in cargo shipping.

The head of the Barbados Port Authority noted that COVID-19 wiped out all the gains up to March 2020, with the region now facing economic decline of three per cent, no resumption of cruise shipping until 2021, and a reduction of trade due to dampened consumer demand.

Senator Cummins pointed out, however, that the maritime sector continued to keep the supply chain open, despite the challenges, and that the policy response going forward must look at diversification, but not necessarily “away from tourism, but within tourism”. She revealed that the cruise lines are talking about redeploying vessels, starting with the Caribbean, and that this is presenting the region with opportunities to develop new tourism products that can offer a safe experience for visitors and residents.

The Barbadian senator also spoke on the blue economy, expressing support for the full implementation of port community systems as the next stage of maritime digital transformation that will be crucial to resilience and sustainability in the new normal.

ECLAC RECOMMENDATIONS

Quarless presented on the ‘Economic impacts and considerations for the Caribbean in the light of COVID-19’. She said that the losses in tourism earnings to the Caribbean region alone in 2020 is estimated to be between US$22 billion and US$28 billion, representing 75 per cent of income that would have been earned were it not for the pandemic.

The ECLAC director said that the negative growth that is forecast for the region will increase both the public debt of countries and their debt-to-GDP ratio. She said that debt servicing already accounts for a high percentage of government expenditure in the Caribbean, with countries spending as much as 74.9 per cent of their annual income to service debt.

“Our economies are already heavily burdened,” Quarless noted, adding that governments have also been spending on public assistance programmes in the current pandemic. She said that these challenges are exacerbated by the region’s vulnerability to climate change and pointed out that 16 named storms are predicted for the Caribbean in 2020.

In this context of economic decline and vulnerability, ECLAC is making a number of recommendations to promote resilience in regional economies. Among these is a ‘Debt Swap Initiative for Resilience’ that envisages a resilience fund to promote green energy and blue economy products. ‘Debt and Service Stand Still’ is another proposal that includes debt forgiveness and deferrals, along with access to concessionary financing.

Other ECLAC recommendations include state contingency bonds, in the event of hurricanes, and green energy and blue economy bonds to promote environmentally friendly enterprises and digital transformation.

UNCTAD’s 10-POINT PLAN

In his presentation, Hoffman focused on ‘Meeting global requirements for the new business models and new institutional mechanisms in times of COVID-19’. He outlined UNCTAD’s 10-point action plan to strengthen international trade and transport facilitation in times of pandemic.

The main elements of the 10-point plan include uninterrupted shipping – 80 per cent of global trade volume is transported by commercial shipping and because seafarers are essential personnel, governments need to allow crews to board their ships or be repatriated from any seaport in the world; ports to remain open – governments need to ensure that health measures are implemented in ways that minimise interference with international traffic and trade; protect trade of critical goods – specific trade-facilitation measures, to include provisions for expedited shipments, relief and medical consignments, and perishable goods; facilitate cross-border transport – trucks, trains, aeroplanes and their transport workers need to be able to cross borders in order to keep supply chains functioning; right of transit – landlocked and transit countries need to maintain their access to seaports; transparency and up-to-date information – to communicate clearly and ensure information is available to all actors and stakeholders; go paperless – as physical contact between people needs to be minimised; address early-on legal implications – industry and traders need to be encouraged to waive some of their legal rights and agree on moratoria for payments, performance, etc; protect shippers and service providers – economic emergency and social-protection measures need to include the international logistics industry among its priority beneficiaries; technical assistance – these measures require investment in human, institutional and technological capacities and should thus be given immediate technical support by development partners.

The head of UNCTAD’s Trade Facilitation Section stressed that “international collaboration, coordination and solidarity among all is going to be key to overcoming this unprecedented global challenge”.

DIGITISATION SOLUTIONS

‘Trends and emerging practice in digitisation – implications for the Caribbean’ was the topic for the presentation by Bernadette Lewis. She said that CARICOM is moving toward a “single ICT space” that requires a regionally harmonised ecosystem; robust broadband infrastructure; common frameworks for government, the private sector and civil society; and governance and management systems.

The secretary general of the CTU said that a 21st-century government is one that is digitised, citizen-centric, seamless, integrated, resilient and predictable. She pointed out, however, that “digitization is not just putting records in digital format, but reimagining to come up with new and more efficient ways of doing things.”

IMO CONCERN FOR SEAFARERS

The final presentation of the joint CSA/WiMAC webinar was delivered by Chris Trelawny and titled ‘Essential pre-considerations in planning a sustainable response for seafarers and essential workers in the shipping industry’. He placed great emphasis on the plight of seafarers and said that they and port workers must be treated as key workers and assisted accordingly.

The IMO representative told participants that the current seafarer crisis threatens the health, maritime safety and protection of the marine environment, and he congratulated the IMO member states in the Caribbean who have been acting upon the advice of the IMO regarding seafarers, their safe repatriation, and facilitation of crew changes.

The webinar included a quick survey and a question-and-answer period that allowed interaction between participants and presenters. The survey asked, ‘Which topic would you like to learn more about?’ The response from the participants showed that there was great interest in maritime transport and the blue economy; economic impacts and considerations of Caribbean shipping; facilitation of maritime trade and transport; digitalisation and the human element.

These webinars, hosted by the CSA, provide a forum in which matters of great relevance to the survival, growth and development of Caribbean shipping in the new normal are discussed.