Speaking at the recent winter press conference of the International Union of Maritime Insurers (IUMI), the organisation’s president Dieter Berg starkly outlined one of the threats to the maritime industry when he said that, among other issues it faced: “Globalisation is in crisis.”
What he meant by this is that a combination of political events and ongoing trends are pointing to a rise in protectionist measures and threats to current free trade agreements, with consequently negative effects for shipping.
Clearly, Mr Berg had specific issues in mind when saying this. One was clearly Brexit, which – while its long-term effects are debatable – will necessarily mean the replacement of existing free trade agreements with all the uncertainty that creates. However, the more pressing matter, one felt, was the election of Donald Trump as US President.
President Trump has made no secret – indeed a virtue – of his ‘America First’ policy, which prioritises US goods, jobs and services and rejects large-scale agreements that may have a harmful effect on them. Equally, much of his rhetoric has been directed at China, whose economic rise and growth as an exporter he has framed as having happened at America’s expense.
Clearly, this flies in the face of the globalist agenda that has driven the world economy for some time and that has prioritised ease of trade almost, some might argue, at all costs.
This is not as new a thing as might be imagined, however. Mr Berg in his address pointed out that IUMI had identified a broad increase in protectionist measures since 2009. However, recent events would seem to have placed things into sharper focus.
Clearly, a more competitive (some might say combative) US trading policy created by punitive tariffs and a more lightly regulated US manufacturing industry could make the position of shipping and investors very difficult over the next few years.
Instead, it is to be hoped that actions are less extreme than rhetoric and that the old maxim that ‘Nobody wins a trade war’ is remembered.