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“Accelerate infrastructure investment to join the Silk Road” / INTERVIEW

Mario Mattioli: “The doubling of the Suez Canal has strengthened the centrality of the Mediterranean Sea”.

What is the state of health of the Italian flagged fleet? “The Italian flagged merchant fleet,” explained Mario Mattioli, president of Confitarma, “is among the largest in the world and is currently at a total tonnage of 16.3 million tonnes, with leading positions or very strong ones in the overall world rankings and in the most sophisticated sectors (RO-RO units, cruise ships, ships for chemical products). It should be noted that most of the Italian fleet (over 40%) consists of bulk carriers for dry cargo that transport raw materials, mostly over long distances between the American continent, Oceania and East Asia. This traffic, the export of maritime transport services, allows the balance of payments for transport to record a credit of approximately €4.9 trillion against a deficit of approximately €5.5 billion, which mostly covers the negative balance that’s typical of economies that are poor in raw materials like our own.”

What are the prospects opened up by China’s Silk Road project (OBOR)?

“Suffice to say that the Shanghai International Shipping Institute predicts that in 2030 they will move at least 40 million TEUs along the maritime Silk Road to and from Europe. Italy is one of the most important countries involved in the OBOR project, but despite its geographical advantage, according to data from the World Economic Forum, Italy ranks only 56th in the world rankings for its quality of port infrastructure, which means that many goods are being brought to foreign ports with more reliable time frames and more effective logistics. It is therefore clear that the strengthening of the port system is essential to increase Italy’s competitiveness. And it is equally important to have an integrated vision at the national level”.

Recently, the European Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said that she intends to examine State aid in China and Korea. What is your opinion about this?

“Confitarma, together with the other shipowners’ associations that are members of ECSA (the European Shipowners’ Association) very much appreciates the words of Commissioner Malmstrom but words are not enough: concrete and decisive action must be taken to combat the unfair trade practices implemented by China and South Korea aimed at preventing European shipowners and shipbuilders from operating internationally.”

Aside from these concerns, what opportunities can greater cooperation between Europe and China offer?

“The Chinese initiative will strengthen ground freight transport between China and Europe, and according to the OECD, by 2030 the railways will be able to transport 500,000 to a million containers per year from Asia to Europe. Nevertheless, the important role of land corridors in the Belt and Road Initiative can never be compared to that of maritime corridors, which already transport 20 million containers by sea. Therefore, most of the goods transported between China and Europe will continue to go by sea, and for this reason it is essential to shorten the routes to Europe and avoid Gibraltar.”

Two years have passed since the enlargement of the Suez Canal. Has this important project had real results in terms of traffic?

“The doubling of the Suez Canal has strengthened the centrality of the Mediterranean. In the first eight months of 2018, the goods on board the ships that passed through the channel in both directions amounted to 643.9 million tonnes (8.9% more than in the same period in 2017), of which 336.5 million tonnes were on ships heading south (+8.8%) and 307.3 million tonnes on ships heading north (+8.9%). The new centrality of the Mediterranean represents a real opportunity for the development and stabilization of the area, and it is very important that Italy seizes this opportunity to reaffirm its strategic and geo-economic role both from the infrastructural and the economic-financial point of view. It will also act as a “bridge” for Europe. Moreover, it is well known that plans are in progress to upgrade many of the port and logistical infrastructure in the other Mediterranean countries, and Italian ports cannot just stand by and watch. The hope is that investments will be made in infrastructure to allow Italy to keep up with the most competitive ports in the Mediterranean.”

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