With over 80 % of world merchandise trade by volume being carried by sea, maritime transport remains the backbone supporting international trade and globalisation. For the EU, which continues to be the most important exporter at world level and the second largest importer, maritime transport and all related shipping services are essential to help European companies compete globally.
The European Commission maintains a continuous dialogue with all the EU shipping and trading partners in the world, e.g. the USA, China, India and Japan with a view to reinforcing the stability of the world seaborne trade system. Bilateral agreements and dialogues are key instruments for solving problems, lifting restrictions to international maritime transport and promoting quality shipping values all over the world. The European Commission fully supports the efforts of the WTO to achieve a multilateral agreement at worldwide level, which will benefit all nations in the world.
The European Commission also takes part in the work of international organisations, especially relating to issues such as safety and the protection of the marine environment or labour standards..Global standard setting takes place in the IMO by a number of key maritime safety Conventions, such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). But also at regional level in relation to environmental protection as regards Regional Sea Conventions such as HELCOM for the Baltic Sea, the Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean, OSPAR for the North-East Atlantic and the Bucharest Convention for the Black Sea. In relation to labour standards the International Labour Organization (ILO) holds an important role in the international level by setting standards and ensuring the living and working conditions on board the ships by virtue of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006).
The European Commission coordinates EU positions with Member States when negotiating in forums such as the IMO and the ILO and prepares Union submissions on the basis of EU funded studies, aiming to ensure that the highest standards are set as a basis already at an international level. Regarding the ILO, the EU supports MLC and its objective of level playing field while becoming a global legal instrument that will constitute the “fourth pillar” of the IMO regulatory regime for quality shipping. Therefore, it has transposed large parts of MLC, 2006 in the EU legislation.
The European Union is also a contracting party to some of the relevant Conventions, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the 1974 Athens Convention on the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea as amended by the 2002 Protocol (Counsil Decisions regarding the accession to be found below under "related links"). This means that the provisions of these agreements form part of Union law and are directly enforceable in the EU, as of their date of entry into force.
In addition, bilateral Transport Security Working Groups are well established with the US Japan, Korea and China. Talks with Caspian Sea countries and the Mediterranean basin countries have also recently begun.
Transport Security Working Groups aim to:
- enable a common understanding of security matters
- exchange experiences and best practice in the field of security
- make further progress towards the international standardisation of security practices
- establish mutual agreements for security practices allowing reciprocal reviews, leading if possible to savings in security operations for cargo and passengers coming from countries with mutually recognised security measures.
- Council Decision of 12 December 2011 concerning the accession of the European Union to the Protocol of 2002 to the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974, with the exception of Articles 10 and 11 thereof