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China's crucial role in the maritime world

NOBODY in this region of the world is likely to be surprised by the idea that it is good to have China onboard if you want to get something done internationally.

That realisation is starting to gain traction generally and shipping industry insiders have long understood how important China is in the maritime world. That is one reason why so many of them were at the Marintec conference at Shanghai a fortnight ago.

That is also why the Singapore-based chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Esben Poulsson, was there as keynote speaker.

He took the opportunity to praise the positive role played by the Chinese government in supporting the global regulatory framework for merchant shipping provided by the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO).

If ICS could have a perfect world it would be one where everything to do with shipping is decided by the appropriate international organisation, primarily IMO. Of course we are rather a long way from that perfect world but China, generally, likes international rules. There are areas of policy that could test that proposition but we won't sail the South China Sea today.

So Mr Poulsson welcomed China's "close adherence" to the implementation of national maritime regulations, applicable to visiting foreign-flag ships, in a manner consistent with the international maritime safety and pollution prevention conventions adopted by IMO.

He said that China generally avoided the tendency "unfortunately displayed by some other IMO member states" towards adopting unilateral shipping regulations at variance to rules agreed internationally.

Enormous challenges

There are two particularly critical areas of concern, and two main offenders.

So Mr Poulsson took aim, saying: "EU (European Union) member states, for example, despite what were understood to be undertakings to the contrary, appear to be pressing ahead with the implementation of a regional CO2 data collection system for ships (including visiting non-EU flag ships) which is very different to that agreed by IMO for global application."

And then: "The United States, meanwhile, shows no signs of ever ratifying the IMO Ballast Water Convention, and has adopted type-approval standards for the new treatment systems required that are different to those agreed by IMO. This creates enormous practical and legal challenges for ship operators which trade to the United States."

On the other hand, Mr Poulsson highlighted China's efforts to engage constructively in the development at IMO of new environmental regulations applicable to international shipping and to look for pragmatic solutions for their successful implementation worldwide.

In regard to the current development of an IMO CO2 reduction strategy for shipping, Mr Poulsson said that "ICS was very encouraged that China, in collaboration with other important emerging economies, has come forward with its own vision of what an IMO CO2 strategy might look like, and has actually gone to the effort of developing a possible draft text."

Ambitious agreement

He continued: "We think that this text, proposed by China and others - if combined with the CO2 reduction objectives put forward by the shipping industry and other governments - could actually provide the makings of a truly ambitious agreement, which will provide a signal to the world that IMO is very serious about reducing shipping's CO2 emissions, and that it has a detailed plan for the development of further measures."

With respect to the IMO Ballast Convention, the ICS chairman welcomed the pragmatic approach taken by most IMO member states, including the government of China, which had accepted the arguments made by ICS and others, that there is little logic - from an environmental protection standpoint - in requiring thousands of ships to comply until they can be fitted with systems that have been approved under the more stringent IMO standards which have only recently been agreed.

While commending China's strong engagement with IMO, which he viewed as "a source for good", Mr Poulsson couldn't miss a recruiting opportunity. He suggested that China's ability to contribute to positive outcomes during IMO discussions could be further strengthened if the China Shipowners' Association (CSA) became a full member of ICS, alongside its other 36 member national shipowner associations in Asia, the Americas and Europe.

He added: "We enjoy good relations with the Chinese government at IMO, and we very much hope that CSA will become a full member of ICS in the near future."

Now accepting that China is working constructively at IMO isn't the same as saying the country puts IMO ahead of its own perceived national interest. But it appears China accepts that sticking with IMO is the way ahead, in its own best interests. That is good news. It's a shame the US and EU don't take the same view.