Britain needs to secure significant reforms in its relationship with Europe or risk damaging the £10bn-a-year maritime industry, shipping bosses have warned.
The shipping industry claims that if Eurocrats are able to strengthen their grip on regulation, then Britain will be put at a “competitive disadvantage”.
It is the first time Britain’s maritime sector has spoken out on Europe. The comments, which add to growing concern about EU membership among business leaders, come in a report by the UK Chamber of Shipping, which represents 170 major ship operators including P&O, Stena and the UK operations of Maersk and CMA CGM.
The report acknowledges that while the single market has delivered “huge benefits” to shipping, an expansion of EU powers could harm Britain’s maritime sector, which employs 240,000 UK workers.
Guy Platten, chief executive of the chamber, said: “The UK has persistently tried to keep its foot on the brakes of ‘ever closer union’. If it votes to stay in the EU without significant reforms, then the European Commission could see it as a green light to finally put its foot down on the accelerator. This will likely result in more, not less regulation.”
Maritime leaders are now trying to alert David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and the public to what they see as the dangers of a vote to stay in the EU without Britain first winning significant concessions on Brussels’ regulatory powers.
Platten added: “Access to the single market has helped to drive growth in trade with our closest neighbours. The loss of tariffs and increased competition in the supply chain has boosted custom, driven down costs and allowed the conditions for job creation, economic and social progress.
“But the attitude of the European Commission appears to be ‘regulate where possible’ and not ‘regulate where necessary’ – which has created a sense of ‘mission creep’ resulting in a centralisation of power in Brussels.”
The chamber added that shipping already works under global regulations imposed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
David Balston, the chamber’s policy director added: “The IMO creates a global level playing field. But when a regional power such as the EU creates its own regulation, then that global level playing field becomes distorted, and major maritime nations such as the UK feel the impact more than most.”
The chamber’s report also argues that the EU should act as a watchdog protecting free trade, removing barriers rather than imposing them, and calls for a review of existing regulation, with a “red tape challenge” that removes controls which are “unnecessary, failed or outdated”.
In September, an analysis by Capital Economics concluded that the UK pulling out of the EU “would not be a disaster”, as some have predicted.
“Claims that millions of jobs are reliant on membership of the EU are highly misleading”, it said, adding that “they assume that all of the UK’s trade with the EU would vanish if the UK left the EU”.
Claims that millions of jobs are reliant on membership of the EU are highly misleading
The report said trade would be “relatively unaffected” by a withdrawal, with likely higher costs coming from tariffs, quotas and customs proving to be “an inconvenience rather than a major barrier to trade”.
A major report by senior business leaders including Jon Moynihan, former executive chairman at PA Consulting, venture capitalist Luke Johnson and fund manager Helena Morrissey echoed Capital Economics’ verdict.
It said Britain “has nothing to fear” from pulling out of the EU, and that international banks and financial institutions would remain in the City despite the change. They could even benefit from lighter regulation, it added.
Paul Drechsler, president of the Confederation of British Industry, is set to add his voice to the debate at the lobby group’s annual dinner tomorrow . He will call for less red tape, while also describing Europe as Britain’s “passport to a world of opportunity”, opening doors and providing a path to faster and more preferential trade deals.
Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.