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Towards fostering a maritime environment

‘The waves that shape us make us stronger’ was the tag line phrase used for the launch of the integrated maritime policy consultation process. It was a fitting phrase that coined the objective of a policy that would integrate the various maritime business opportunities with our social and environmental responsibilities leading to a step change, a change that will lead Malta to become a centre of maritime excellence.

An ambitious order indeed, for it brings a number of challenges that must be overcome. But as one prominent marketing organisation aptly said, “challenges only make us stronger”.

The integrated maritime policy was launched at the EU in October 2007. It was the result of a year-long consultation exercise following the Green Paper on the ‘European vision for the oceans and the sea’. This process was led by Joseph Borg who was the EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. Dr Borg was succeeded by Maria Damanaki and now, seven years later, the policy will be the responsibility of Karmenu Vella as the new Commissioner.

We have gone a full circle and what was initiated by a Maltese Commissioner is now back in the hands of another Maltese Commissioner. Although a Commissioner is not there to follow up the interest of his native country, it would be ideal if the native country supported its Commissioner by ensuring that the policies and directives under his or her remit are adequately implemented. It is with this in mind that over the past weeks I have given the development of the integrated maritime policy high priority.

Over the summer recess, I have followed up through several meetings with various stakeholders involved in maritime activities. It is not just shipping or fisheries industries and their related activities. It is also vessels repair, ports, marine equipment, offshore energy, maritime and coastal tourism, aquaculture, submarine telecommunications, blue biotech and the protection of the marine environment.

In certain fields Malta is progressing in the right direction with active business participation and through improved coordination and communications we can reach out for further expansion. We have areas with well managed structures such as coastal tourism by the Malta Tourism Authority, shipping and port security by Transport Malta, fisheries through the efforts of the Department of Fisheries and environmental protection by Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The latter are directly responsible for key areas such as the Water Framework Directive, Marine Spatial Planning and Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

In other sectors we need to embark on a more ambitious approach if we are to address the challenges ahead.

All efforts made are laudable, yielding positive results but we can create further opportunities. I believe there is room for expansion; further opportunities can be seized.

The integrated maritime policy will focus efforts on a number of new and innovative maritime sectors, such as green shipping, offshore renewable energy, or blue biotech. It will also address traditional sectors, such as maritime transport and fisheries, where further growth and jobs can be created if tackled with the use of innovative technologies and marketing.

The policy strives to identify gaps within which there can be development. Preservation and improvements to the state of the environment can be achieved through the participation of private initiatives.

In today’s world, which has become ever so conscious of our heritage and environment, it is vital that we look towards the protection of our resources as an opportunity for growth. The conceptual framework to support this vision is already there through the Commission’s Blue Growth initiative and the revised fisheries policy.

It would be ideal if the native country supported its Commisioner by ensuring that the policies are adequately implemented

The integrated maritime policy seeks to foster this economic growth while remaining consistent with a good environmental status and with the sustainable use of the resources. The policy will focus on ‘blue growth’ through the integration of economic growth and protection of ecosystems. In this direction we have identified four pillars – food, energy logistics and services – where Malta is already active but where there is high potential for further expansion. Expansion that can be achieved through an improved knowledge base that will increase added value.

The government is committed to develop maritime economic clusters; clusters that emerge from the four Blue Growth pillars. Due to our size the maritime clusters will be national clusters concentrated around particular set of activities. Government will encourage participation of private stakeholders to create a collaborative environment that will facilitate progress.

The idea of clusters is not new and, only a few weeks ago, Malta Enterprise launched the aviation business cluster where it identified the establishment of such a cluster as a means to stimulate innovation and visibility, thereby ensuring its sustainability and facilitating further growth.

Malta Enterprise has the legal remit to support and assist in the development of clusters through the Legal Notice issued under the Malta Enterprise Act dated 2009. MITA had identified the cluster concept to help create the core competencies in an ICT cluster.

The European Commission had identified the need to establish maritime clusters from the onset of the integrated maritime policy. The strategic importance of maritime structures in a globalised environment necessitates the ‘re-grouping’ of maritime operators that may be competing. If we are to think globally or even regionally we have to realise that chances for success will only increase through collaboration.

Several European Nations have already adopted such an approach; we are lagging but if we act fast there is time to recover lost ground. If we are to become a hub than the collaborative and participative model of maritime clusters is essential.

This is a cultural change to our business environment where we are often too protective of our business. Collaboration is an opportunity not a threat to business development.

Progress is being registered and contributing towards realisable maritime development goals successfully under different ministries. The Labour Party in government is committed to seeing the integrated maritime policy adopted and is keen to launch a number of initiatives for its successful implementation.

The scope of the policy will serve as a platform on which we will build a strategy for business to continue on its path for growth and development.

We need to catch up with other EU nations that have progressed significantly on the subject since the launch by the Commission of the integrated maritime policy in 2007.

We have seven years to recover in a just a short space of time. We need to adopt a ‘can do’ approach if we are to succeed.

José Herrera is the Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Economic Growth.

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