One of the basic principles of the European Union is the free movement of goods between member countries. However, in reality there are various obstacles, physical and otherwise, which impede the free movement of goods and the European Union has tried over the years to set up agencies and missions to identify obstacles and address solutions.
One of the initiatives taken by the European Union way back in 1997 was that of promoting shortsea shipping and motorways of the seas so that bottlenecks for the movement of cargo between member states are identified and removed and at the same time incentives are given to shift movement of cargo to the sea rather than the road – in order to address the other issues of pollution and road accidents.
This EU initiative led to the establishment of shortsea promotion centres which Malta joined in 2000 with the establishment of the Malta Shortsea Promotion Centre. This centre today comprises 20 different local entities and companies who between them employ over 2,000 persons mainly within the maritime and logistics activities.
Although the MSPC is not a high profile organisation, over the years since its inception it has consistently contributed to the development of the local maritime and logistics scenario especially by way of topical seminars, newsletters and channelling of industry information. All the promotion centres are then grouped into the European Shortsea Network (ESN) which is officially recognised by the EU Commission as the vehicle for the development of EU wide programmes related to shortsea shipping. The Marco Polo project and the Ten-T programme are two examples.
The MSPC is actively involved in the ESN because there is ample scope for interlinking with other EU countries. The MSPC, which can be considered as a private public entity, is in fact a non-profit NGO whose main mission is to be the focal point for promoting and improving shortsea transport and logistics initiatives in Malta in order to enhance the contribution to the local economy from the maritime sector and at the same time assist Malta’s cohesion with Europe and its neighbours.
In a more tangible manner, MSPC focuses on:
• Opportunities, through appropriate EU funds, for Maltese interested parties, e.g. shipowners, trailer operators, service providers.
• The participation of Malta in EU projects related to transport.
• A review of local practices that hinder or obstruct the free movement of seaborne cargo on Malta.
• The education of the Maltese transport community on the facilities and opportunities offered by the ESN.
• The identification of suitable training courses funded by the EU.
• Giving input and feedback wherever possible on national and EU level policies that influence the industry.
The MSPC is currently in a state of transformation and growth. The ultimate objective is to transform itself into a maritime cluster representing all those interests in Malta who, in one way or another, generate their economic activity through the maritime industry. The case for a Malta maritime cluster is long overdue but it is heartening to note that in the Integrated Maritime Policy paper published by the Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness, government is also promoting the development of a maritime cluster which should encompass all stakeholders “whose experience and knowledge within the field will be vital in establishing a national strategy that is both holistic and overarching”.
Given this direction, the MSPC is currently holding discussions both at government level as well as at industry level. With government, the MSPC is discussing how it can contribute in the overall objective of making Malta a centre of maritime excellence and at the same time seeking recognition from government for its new role as a maritime cluster. At an industry level, the response has been very encouraging with new members coming from the port services sector as well as from representatives of small enterprises. Discussions are ongoing with other interested parties.
If Malta wishes to join other leading EU countries within the general maritime and logistics industry it has to put these initiatives on fast track so that we do not lose the momentum to attain the objective of creating more economic activity through our predominant resource: the sea.
Godwin Xerri is the managing director of Combined Maritime Services, members of the Malta Shortsea Promotion Centre.
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