Cyprus Editorial: Will we ever take shipping seriously?

04 October, 2017 | Posted By: Financial Mirror
With the Maritime Cyprus conference just around the corner, the island’s shipping community will gather to hear experts talk about future strategy and what lies ahead for shipowners, while politicians will give their usual pledges of support. The difference this year is that for a change, there has been some progress as regards the setting up of a Deputy Ministry for Shipping, albeit nearly five years late.

But the conference should not just be limited to stakeholders talking, exchanging views and striking deals. Policy makers and administration officials ought to be present in order to get first-hand knowledge about the only sector of the economy that has remained a steady revenue earner throughout the economic crisis, despite the ups and downs of the global transport industry. Furthermore, with the tourism sector being susceptible to rapid developments in the airline and highly competitive holiday sectors, the fact that shipping contributes about 7% of the Cyprus GDP is commendable and ought to be taken more seriously.
Agriculture employment has declined substantially by 10-20% in many producer countries, with farming in Cyprus now estimated at about 3% of GDP. The island has never had a significant manufacturing sector, which is why it is driven by the services sector. But this has been at average levels of quality, once again unable to compete with other rival jurisdictions that have a good lead in financial, accounting and legal services.
The economy seems to be adapting to change as well, with the needs of the market resulting in a handful of college and university courses, customised or geared to the maritime community.
As long as reforms are slow and infrastructure remains rigid, Cyprus will never improve its ranking in the Davos Forum competitiveness index. Despite promises of ‘one stop shop’ services, that may seem impressive on paper, these have never been properly implemented.
What’s more, white elephants, such as the Pentakomo technology park and the Centre for the Arts in Nicosia, whose funding was (fortunately) slashed, cannot contribute to development and growth if the economy does not invest in an innovation culture. Even the recently announced incentives package to try and lure the cinema and music industries to Cyprus is ill-fated as a package of tax measures will never be enough, unless it is accompanied by a mature market and strong support services, as is the case of Greece that only this week announced it had secured deals with major Hollywood producers and was investing in a school for cinema and animation in Syros.
The shipping sector, both ownership and ship-management, is clearly emerging as the strongest sector of the Cyprus economy, with a bright future ahead if the right moves are made, by the right people and at the right time.
It remains to be seen if politicians will realise that they don’t need to look far when the reality lies right in front of them.