BOTH IMPORTS and exports are on the rise at the port of Genoa, and North Africa continues to be one of the most relevant markets for the port of the Ligurian capital, despite political instability that has affected the region as a whole for years. “Genoa is in a geographically strategic position,” says Alessandro Pitto, president of Spediporto.
Commercial traffic between Genoa and North Africa has kept growing even over the last decade, despite Italy’s economic crisis and the political instability of many African countries. Container traffic rose (from 1.4 to 1.7 million tonnes between 2007 and 2016) and Ro-ro (from 1.2 to 1.5 million tonnes), with liquid bulk being the only segment on the decline. In terms of tonnage, the collapse of oil and its derivatives (from 7.6 to 3.5 million tonnes) significantly affected the overall figure (down from 10.7 to 6.8 million tonnes between 2007 and 2016). Solid bulk cargoes, always subject to wide fluctuations from year to year, do not contribute significantly in the port’s trade, with volumes capped at 260,000 tonnes per year. “In 2017, import containers increased by 24%,” points out the port’s forwarders’ chairman. “Those for export also registered an increase of 10%.” The MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), which has the second youngest population in the world, after the Sub-Saharan region, requires reforms to create jobs for young people and reduce unemployment. The call comes from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on the basis of projections which show 5.5 million new workers coming into the market across MENA countries each year, over the next five years.
Over the past five years, the area’s working age population has grown by 50.2 million, with 27.6 million people joining the workforce, but with employment figures over the same period just growing by 25.4 million. With 60% of the population under the age of 30, the region has difficulty creating openings for all in the labour market, and unemployment rates remain high: it spiked at 11.5% at the beginning of the 2000s, while current unemployment levels average 10.6%, much higher than in advanced economies (7.2%) and emerging countries (9.8%). According to the IMF analysis, if the region is able to increase employment levels by 0.5% every year, GDP growth could reach 5.5% per year, and per capita income will grow 3.8% per year. Without that increase, however, unemployment could reach 14% by 2030. According to the IMG, amongst the obstacles holding back employment growth across the region are: limited access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); low levels of direct investment from abroad; and political instability. Increasing access to credit for SMEs to levels similar to those of emerging countries would lead to a $300 billion increase in private sector investment for the region; instead its figures show the lowest concentration of loans to SMEs.
The largest employer in MENA countries therefore remains the public sector, a fact that stifles the growth of the private sector, which is vital for economic growth. The public sector employs on average 8% of the workforce in the MENA countries that are oil importers, and 13% in those located in the Arabian peninsula, much higher than the 5% figure recorded in emerging economies. Foreign direct investment is also scarce; over the 2010-2015 period it decreased by 53%, while in South America and the Caribbean it rose by 11%, and in Sub-Saharan Africa by 76%. “The increase in traffic that pertains to the port of Genoa and involves North Africa,” Pitto concludes, “is fundamental. But, just as the data available tells us, it’s essential that our entire economic system becomes the main partner for the productive system of each individual North African country. This is an area whose population is extremely young, and that represents a workforce that over the next few years is set to grow.”