By Thanasis Gavos – London
If there is one sector of the economy where Cyprus punches way above its weight, that has to be shipping.
The Shipping portfolio ministers from around the world have gathered in London for the 28th biannual Assembly of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a prestigious if mostly technical occasion in which the powerful speak and the less powerful try to influence things their way by picking the right side.
One might think that the second category would include a tiny island like Cyprus. One would be mistaken.
The Minister of Communications and Works of Cyprus Tasos Mitsopoulos, who is in charge of maritime affairs, arrived at the IMO headquarters with the knowledge that he represents the third largest shipping power in Europe and the tenth globally. So he set off setting the agenda.
He started by praising the Organisation’s work over the last two years on reducing green house gases and battling piracy and armed robberies, although he made clear Cyprus wants to see more.
But where Mr Mitsopoulos was unequivocal was the issue of the proliferation of amendments to the various IMO instruments and the large volumes of recommendations and guidelines which are adopted each year. “They continue to pose a very serious concern. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for the Membership and the industry to timely and effectively implement what is produced in this building,” warned the minister. He went even further, saying that the frequent changes “can be seen as implying a short sight approach and that IMO favours speed over the quality.”
The Cypriot official also said that Cyprus expects the IMO to promote multi-sectoral partnerships involving NGOs, the private sector, communities, and mass media, as well as government, intergovernmental bodies, international agencies and bilateral and multilateral financial institutions.
In the five minutes he had available for his address during the plenary session on the inaugural day of the Assembly, he managed to squeeze in yet more Cyprus-specific suggestions. First, he warned against abandoning shipping as a competitive and vital mode of transport for island countries.
And above all, Mr Mitsopoulos left no doubt about his country’s position with regard to the IMO budget for the next two years: “In the past, Cyprus has been very accommodating. However, when in the domestic front we are cutting social and welfare benefits, restricting educational and health expenditures and curtailing or postponing development projects, it is very difficult to explain and justify any increases in the budget of the Organisation.”
Mr Mitsopoulos was not alone. He and his counterparts from the other two main European shipping powers, Greece and Malta, agreed to hold a tripartite summit in order to form a common front that will help promote their shipping interests and policies. Particularly Cyprus and Greece are pushing forward their long held position that shipping regulations cannot be regionally implemented, but globally – a blow to EU red tape. Judging from the impact that the Cypriot and Greek delegation presence commanded, it is not a surprise that most probably their wish will come true.
“Cyprus is a big, a powerful player in world shipping. We are very proud that our small country has achieved this prowess,” Mr Mitsopoulos told IBNA.
The minister of course also had a more topical message. Asked by IBNA whether the shipping sector has withstood the crisis, the minister was quick to affirm so and to add: “Shipping is an important pylon of the recovery effort, of the restart of the economy.”