By Thomas A Kazakos*
The “Year of Salvation”, 2018, has already arrived. Also, in a few weeks, the Presidential elections will take place, electing the new President and Government of the Republic of Cyprus for the next five years.
In last year’s article, upon reviewing 2016, the general outcome was that “Cyprus Shipping during the past five difficult years for our country, managed to remain one of the most important “blood donors” of the Cyprus economy with tangible prospects for further development.”
Where does 2017 leave Cyprus Shipping therefore, and what are the challenges and prospects for the New Year ahead?
The Cyprus Registry ranked as the 11th Largest Merchant Fleet worldwide and the 3rd largest fleet in the European Union (EU). In addition, Cyprus is considered to be the Largest Shipmanagement Centre in the EU and among the three largest globally.
The contribution of Shipping to the economy of Cyprus is estimated around 7% of the Gross Domestic Product. 2017 statistics show that, despite the unstable Freight markets globally during previous years, the revenue brought to Cyprus from Maritime Transport surpassed €1 billion for a consecutive year.
Furthermore, 200 internationally known and recognised Shipowning, Shipmanagement and Shipping related companies operate from Cyprus. The wider Shipping Sector employs around 4,500 employees and 55,000 seafarers with high earnings. The national Shipping Industry is probably the only industry which supports the Cyprus Economy without any State investment and at the same time, operates successfully on a global basis, controlling a fleet of 2500 vessels.
The Cyprus Register is also considered internationally as one of the most qualitative and safest. The approval by the EU in 2010 of the special “Open Registry” regime, strengthened considerably the image of the Cyprus flag and creates sound prospects for the further development of Cyprus Shipping.
The recent unanimous decision of the Cyprus Parliament for the creation of an independent “Deputy Ministry of Shipping” as of 1st of March 2018, will substantially assist towards the further development of the Cyprus Shipping and, by extension, the Economy, as well as the commendable efforts that took place the previous years, to promote Cyprus Shipping abroad from the Maritime Administration with the active participation of the Shipping Industry as well as the Cyprus Investment and Promotion Agency (CIPA) especially in relation with “Brexit”.
The year which just commenced, carries the following needs & necessary measures for improvement:
Immediate Implementation of the Deputy Ministry of Shipping
As abovementioned, the unanimous approval of the relevant Bill for the creation of a Deputy Ministry of Shipping by the Cyprus Parliament, is expected to serve as a convincing mechanism for the existing Shipping Industry to remain in Cyprus and also will serve in attracting additional quality shipowners and shipping companies in Cyprus, with a positive chain effect on reducing unemployment and strengthening other economic sectors that provide services to the Shipping Industry, as well as to the close correlation of Shipping with the emerging Energy Sector.
It becomes therefore urgent, to fully utilize the remaining few months until the beginning of March 2018 when the Deputy Ministry will commence operation, as well as the relevant Study specifically prepared for the implementation of all the necessary operational conditions so that the “Deputy Ministry of Shipping”, this new promising institution, will be in a position to operate fully from the first day, making it operationally, more flexible and efficient in the services it will provide.
Promotion – Expansion of the Cyprus Shipping Taxation System
The approval by the European Commission of the fully upgraded Cyprus Shipping Taxation System in 2010, constitutes perhaps the most important success of Cyprus Shipping, as it ensures the viability of the Cyprus Shipping Register and the Cyprus Shipping Industry, as well as the unhindered continuation of the important contribution of the Shipping Industry to the Cyprus Economy, which was tangibly reconfirmed during the recent economic crisis Cyprus went through and despite the considerable “haircut” to shipping companies, they remained in Cyprus supporting ceaselessly the economy.
It is particularly reported, that during the past five years an important increase over 65% in Shipping companies that have registered to the specialised and competitive shipping taxation system of Cyprus was observed and revenue from Shipping has increased by 25%.
In this respect, it is necessary that the Promotion of the new Taxation System abroad be intensified, in order to attract more ships to the Cyprus Register and Shipping Companies to Cyprus, as well as, the Expansion of the System with the inclusion of additional shipping related activities or/and additional taxation incentives regarding shipping, such in ship-finance, commodities and shipyard / repair units.
Turkish Embargo on Cyprus Ships
Since 1987, this constitutes the “Achilles’ Heel” of the Cyprus flag, hindering the further development of the Cyprus Register. It is therefore, imperative for the Cyprus State to follow a multiple-level campaign both at EU and internationally, for the imposition of maximum pressure on Turkey to immediately lift this illegal trade restriction (e.g. via the forthcoming revision of the Customs Union between Turkey/EU, or/and as a “Confidence Building Measure” in a new round of Negotiations of the Cyprus Problem).
Governmental Support of the Maritime Education and “Blue Growth”
Continuous state/governmental support of public and private Educational and Maritime Training Institutions in Cyprus, in order to attract youngsters to the marine and shipping related profession, ensuring therefore, the viable manning and development of the Shipping/Maritime Industry. At the same time, there is a need to promote “Blue Growth” by offering the support needed for the implementation of the “Cyprus Foundation of the Sea”.
During 2017, the Shipping Industry internationally benefited from improved freight rates, after overcoming a long period of low income due to the corresponding situation of the World Economy. During the same year, the Cyprus Economy showed significant growth. The course Cyprus Shipping in 2017 was correctly “navigated”, due to the commendable actions undertaken by the Government and the Shipping Industry. The outcome of these actions was the upgrading of the Cyprus Maritime Administration, with the unanimous approval by the Parliament in July 2017, of an independent Deputy Ministry of Shipping and the creation of the position of a Shipping Under-Secretary to the President of the Republic, essentially “writing” a new page in the Shipping history of Cyprus.
“Setting sail” already to the New year, and making 2018 as a true “Year of Salvation” for the Cyprus Shipping, it is necessary for the Deputy Ministry to work with flexibility and efficiency. In addition, the Deputy Minister, should set as main targets the immediate planning and implementation of a State Shipping Policy both short-term and more importantly, long-term, as well as the further upgrade of services offered to shipping companies. In this way, the State will be ready to respond fast and effective to the tangible prospects for further development of the Shipping Industry, which not only makes a substantial contribution to the Economy and Society, but also actively enhances the political entity of our country.
(*) Thomas A. Kazakos is Director General of the Cyprus Shipping Chamber