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“Let’s move the EU axis from the East to the South”/ INTERVIEW

“Not everyone in ESPO wants to promote the growth of Mediterranean trade. Assoporti has even brought it to the attention of the EU”

“SINCE 2016, the Mediterranean has been a very dynamic market,” says Assoporti’s president, Zeno D’Agostino, who is also at the helm of the Trieste Port Authority. “And if the area managed to do so well despite the significiant social problems in North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, I think it will grow even more when the region regains some stability.”

How important is trade in the Mediterranean for the Italian ports?

“Nowadays, there is much talk about the Silk Road, but the Italian ports that grew the most were the ones that handled an important portion of intra-Mediterranean trade. Of course, today one cannot but consider the Silk Road, which is the most important global theme in the freight transport sector. But traffic in the Mediterranean has also increased.”

Which Italian ports are most interested in these trades?

«The ports in the South of Italy have an important role to play in the Mediterranean trade traffic. Container transport is not the only major trade activity and many Italian ports can grow even if they are not part of the Silk Road. This idea, which has already been adopted by Assoporti, has also become part of the government discourse, which is indicative of everyone’s will to move in this direction.”

Which are the most interesting territories in the Mediterranean for Italian ports?

“Some territories have been victimised by the presence of ISIS and terrorist activities. Other countries such as Iran and Turkey are key areas for Italian trade. In the future, these countries will enjoy considerable growth. This presents an opportunity for growth in the Italian South, even in the manufacturing sector. These are countries that are opening up.”

You said that the container segment is not the only important trade activity. What do you mean?

“There are very important ro-ro activities. In intra-Mediterranean trade, maritime travel is only a minor section of the trade routes overall, so we have less containers and more swap bodies or trailers. We must get used to thinking that in Mediterranean trade, containers are not everything.”

What is Assoporti doing for the Mediterranean trade?

“This is an important issue and Assoporti has even brought it to the attention of the European Union. Ten years ago, Europe was still discussing the idea of establishing a free trade zone that would include all the Mediterranean countries, as as decided in Barcelona. Since then many things have changed and the idea of integration has been abandoned. Today we have forgotten that debate. But it is not necessary to stick to the idea of creating a free trade zone. It is clear that the Arab Spring, ISIS activity and the refugee crisis couldn’t be foreseen at the time and have completely altered the reasoning behind the idea of free trade in the area. There was the fundamental issue of the Euro-Mediterranean corridors. They had already been defined by the European Union and they would connect Europe with the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Everything was lost and the project that positioned our ports at the very centre of this area was abandoned. Assoporti presented ESPO (European sea ports organization) with a proposal to resume at least the work of analysis to achieve integration with the other side. But the response we got from ESPO was not a positive one.”

What happened?

“These were issues that had already been abandoned. Our proposal was well received by the European countries of the Mediterranean such as France, Spain and Greece. But other countries expressed their surprise. Europe is now focusing on the extension of corridors to the East, in what is called the Terrestrial Silk Road, so the prospects of the South are lost. Our ports lose out even if this doesn’t become a central strategic policy of the European Union. There has been a shift in the centre of gravity in Europe towards the East. It is a phenomenon that mainly concerns the manufacturing sector, but also the strategic vision of the Union.”

Has this shift been favoured by Brexit?

“No, it had already begun 7-8 years ago.”

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