By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should fulfill his campaign promise to modernize the Philippines’ maritime industry, which could be a game changer in the country’s post-pandemic recovery, economists said.
Developing the maritime sector should be in line with the global push for sustainability and the demands of the country’s ocean-based economy, they added.
“Shipping is an important item in transaction costs for a country with an archipelagic feature, and it plays an important role in the cost-effective distribution of final goods,” said George N. Manzano, an economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific.
“Agricultural produce could easily be shipped from regions with low prices to regions where prices are spiking,” he added.
Mr. Marcos had promised to develop the maritime sector by making the Philippines a logistics hub and harnessing the country’s sea resources.
The maritime sector should be an important aspect of the president’s food security push, Mr. Manzano said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
Efficient shipping could cut the costs of agricultural produce and stabilize the prices of basic goods across regions, while boosting the country’s export sector. “It would improve the load factor of containers coming into and going out of the country.”
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has said 80-90% of global trade is shipped by sea.
“A large proportion of the output of the maritime industry contributes to the food sustainability thrusts of the administration,” Philip Arnold “Randy” P. Tuaño, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said in an e-mail.
The Philippines was eighth among the top fish-producing nations in the world in terms of production volume in 2018, accounting for 2.06% of the global total, Mr. Tuaño said, citing the United Nations-backed Food and Agriculture Organization.
Mr. Marcos has yet to detail his plans for the maritime industry, having failed to mention it in his first address to Congress on July 25.
The Transportation department has told a congressional hearing the Budget department had rejected its 2023 plan to build more seaports and upgrade existing ones for P800 million.
Mr. Tuaño said the state should see the actual and potential economic and environmental gains from the maritime sector.
Tourism, food production, shipbuilding and offshore power generation are just some of the key activities in the maritime industry that can boost employment and the economy, policy analyst Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said in an e-mail.
Developing the maritime industry should be in line with the demands of a blue or ocean economy, which Mr. Marcos included in his economic agenda during his presidential campaign, he pointed out.
“We have one of the longest coastlines in the world,” Mr. Yusingco said. “The seas surrounding us are undeniably economic assets. Sadly, these assets remain underdeveloped. Our maritime sector pales in comparison to other island nations such as Australia.”
He said the government should craft a maritime policy framework and not just focus on infrastructure development.
“Simply improving ports may not be enough if there is no overarching maritime policy framework being followed,” he said. “In this regard, the administration should consider organizing a blue economy summit to jumpstart the process.”
Experts have cited challenges in seeking to modernize the maritime sector and make it resilient to future shocks.
Reducing the carbon emissions of the shipping sector and stricter environmental regulations were among the top concerns of senior maritime stakeholders around the world, according to a report by Global Maritime Issues Monitor this month.
Geopolitical issues and workforce shortages were also cited as key issues likely to affect the sector in the next 10 years, it added. “The industry feels least prepared for autonomy technology and failure or shortfall in infrastructure.”
Mr. Tuaño said the Philippine maritime industry is notorious for high shipping costs, low service quality, and a poor safety record based on frequent sea accidents.
The government must also address issues hounding the country’s maritime workforce, he said. “Strategies to strengthen and upgrade the quality of education and training of seafarers through policy and institutional reform are also important.”
The European Commission in December cited deficiencies in the Philippines’ seafarer education, training and certification system, flagging the country’s poor compliance with a 1970s convention.
The government should review maritime laws to streamline systems and address potential conflicts of interest, Mr. Manzano said.
It should participate in cooperation agreements in the region on fisheries, sea transport and security, he added.
Creating a robust workforce, streamlining the bureaucracy, marine resource conservation, security and identifying the links between agriculture productivity and marine development are some of the issues that stakeholders should discuss, Mr. Yusingco said.
“It’s a boon that there is already a wealth of academic and industry studies on the blue economy,” he said. “This administration simply needs to capitalize on this moment to fulfill the president’s promise.”