Strategic Priorities


Support the EU’s free trade agenda and oppose growing commercial and maritime protectionism

The EU’s unique voice is powerful outside the EU and will often impact much more than individual Member States’ actions.

Shipping transports around 90% of the global trade in goods, making it the backbone of world trade. Shipping also includes the offshore sector, part of which is the fast growing renewable energy sector such as wind farms at sea. The sector enjoys a high degree of liberalisation, and EU shipowners benefit substantially from free and open access to international shipping markets.

Shipping accounts for 76% of the EU’s external trade and plays by consequence a very important role in the EU’s connectivity to the rest of the world. EU shipowners are world leaders in the offshore sector, including the offshore wind segment.

However, current geopolitical developments are calling into question the principles of free, rule-based trade and open markets. This is putting global trade and other maritime services under increased pressure. It is important - now more than ever - to avoid taking open market access for granted, and for the shipping industry to raise its voice to ensure an open and level playing field worldwide. The efficiency of the shipping sector is dependent on a rules-based trading system. This requires the negotiation of and adherence to bilateral and regional trade agreements, including those which cover maritime transport services, as an important complement to multilateral agreements concluded under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The EU’s unique voice is powerful outside the EU and will often impact much more than individual Member States’ actions. By consequence, it makes sense that shipping - especially maritime clauses that safeguard free and non-discriminatory market access - forms part of any trade-related discussion the EU has with third parties, be it at bilateral or multilateral level, be it in the context of trade negotiations, economic partnership arrangements, development aid or diplomatic encounters. Considering the strategic commercial and political importance of shipping to the EU, it should never be used as a trade-off.



After the departure of the UK from the EU, a level playing field for EU and UK shipping should be respected. In the short term, regulators should ensure frictionless traffic by sea between the UK and the EU, the free movement of seafarers, onshore staff and passengers, and continued market access to the domestic trades and the offshore sector. In the long term, the future relationship should facilitate close cooperation on global issues. The EU and the UK should aim for alignment in legislation relating to maritime affairs and ECSA would like to see this recognised as a guiding principle for the long-term relationship. A strong EU-UK maritime dialogue should offer the platform to discuss common approaches among the two parties, as well as with regard to the global policy framework of the IMO, the OECD, the ILO and the WTO.



It is vital to keep the seas secure and eliminate all threats of piracy and armed robbery at sea. The EU has shown leadership in being a frontrunner in addressing the piracy problem, among others, through the establishment of Operation Atalanta back in 2008. More than ten years later, the problem is unfortunately still there and other hot spots such as in the Gulf of Guinea have emerged. The situation in the Gulf of Guinea continues to deteriorate and shipping companies and seafarers face unacceptable risks. Continued efforts to address the root causes are essential.

Shipping is also confronted with the challenges posed by migration by sea. The EU shipping industry is committed to helping people in distress at sea, in line with its international legal and moral obligations. It is essential that concrete measures are taken in coastal states to ensure that merchant vessels conducting rescues are afforded prompt and predictable disembarkation, consistent with the obligations of the IMO’s SOLAS Convention, and to safeguard the security, health and safety of the ship’s crew.



Therefore, ECSA will continue to:

  • support the EU’s free trade agenda and oppose growing commercial and maritime protectionism
  • advocate for the shipping industry to take centre stage in any EU trade and development policy agenda
  • call for free and non-discriminatory access to international maritime transport services including offshore services through EU trade and maritime agreements
  • support any initiatives by the WTO and its Member States to resume full negotiations on trade in services including maritime transport and offshore services, as well as resuming multilateral negotiations as a whole
  • support seamless movements of seafarers, personnel, passengers and goods in a post-Brexit Europe
  • advocate for EU efforts to ensure secure seas across the globe
  • advocate for a clear mandate for EU delegations in third countries to assist with issues related to market access