Remarks to participants in the UNCTAD TrainForTrade Port Management Programme
Áras an Uachtaráin, 21 June 2018
You are all most welcome to Áras an Uachtaráin today. I am so pleased that so many of you who are participating in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development TrainforTrade Port Management Programme could take time out of your busy week to meet me today.
I have, throughout my political career, always had an immense respect for UNCTAD and the manner in which it has sought to understand, and at times confront, the profound changes wrought to the global economy by states and transnational corporations. UNCTAD still carries so much of the hope and ambitions that inspired its foundation in 1964, at a time when the newly free nations of the world sought to shape the contours of global trade to meet the demands of their people, whose aspirations were for so long suppressed.
UNCTAD was one of the first organisations to recognise and to measure the effects of the growing influence of transnational corporations on the global organisation of consumption, production and exchange. In so doing, it has equipped nations throughout the world with the capacity to regulate and manage some of the most deleterious impacts of the internationalisation of trade and finance that is so often simply termed ‘globalisation’. For we now live in the second age of globalisation – the global sum of imports and exports accounts for over 50 per cent of global output, a greater proportion than the high point of the first age of globalisation in 1914, on the eve of the First World War.
UNCTAD have estimated that over 80 per cent of that trade now takes place within the global value chains of transnational corporations, as goods and services now take increasingly complex and circuitous routes as they are upgraded into diminished products. The debates and analysis occasioned by the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union have demonstrated just how integrated global and regional supply chains have become, particularly in sectors such as the automobile industry. It has also focussed a great deal of attention on the practicalities and efficacies of shipping, customs procedures, and all of those other issues which form the day to day of your own work of managing busy ports.
Today, as you know so well, in this unprecedented period in the globalisation of trade, maritime transport handles over 80 per cent of global trade. As every port community in the world can attest, containerisation has transformed not only the shipping trade, dramatically reducing the cost of maritime freight, but has transformed the structure of work within ports themselves. I witnessed this myself when I was a researcher at the University of Manchester in 1968. Ships would sail down the Manchester Ship Canal from the Mersey Estuary and through to the docks at Salford and Manchester itself, docks bustling with activity, employing many of the citizens of those cities as stevedores, customs agents, and machinists. A nineteenth-century construction, the Ship Canal was too small to encompass the new vast new ships built to carry standardised containers.
In 1970, UNCTAD reported that conventional ships operated at twice the cost of container ships, and that trajectory continued. BY 1982, the last dock in Manchester had closed, just one of the many devastating effects of the shifts in the global economy and economic policy-making to affect the North of England in the late 1970s and 1980s. This was not inevitable, coastal cities and port communities could and did adapt to technological change. The city of Rotterdam is now the largest port in Europe as a consequence of the large-scale investment made by the Dutch Government in the 1960s, and has been sustained by the close working relationship of trade unions and management.
Containerisation, and the surge in global trade it is enabled, can new opportunities and new possibilities for communities and nations too often neglected and left out by the current configuration of global capitalism. UNCTAD have noted that, with the appropriate infrastructure and policies, participation in global value chains can yield results for developing countries, particularly through technology dissemination and skill building, which can be used to sustain and expand a domestic economic base. Rather thann participate in a race to the bottom in labour standards or in capital taxation, nation-states can, with confidence, draw upon the abilities and confidence of their people and their institutions.
In this second age of globalisation, nowhere is this more important than in the field of port management. 90 percent of the volume of developing countries’ international trade is seaborne and any development strategy that seeks to engage with global value chains or indeed to foster an indigenous sector relies upon efficient and effective maritime hubs capable of reducing waiting times and costs while also ensuring health and safety and safeguarding the environment. As an island nation almost uniquely dependent on international trade, we in Ireland know and value the importance of our ports, and all who work there, in Dublin, Cork, Foynes and Belfast.
UNCTAD have rightly emphasised that efficient port management can reduce freight costs to and from countries, often partially offsetting the effects of tariffs. It also has a vital role to play in achieving those two landmark agreements of 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Accords. It is now widely recognised that integration into the global market will be for nothing if it does not protect and deepen social and economic cohesion, and address and prevent environmental degradation.
The TrainForTrade programme is vitally important in achieving these goals, and I am so very proud that our ports here in Ireland and Irish Aid, our overseas development assistance programme, have been participating with the English-speaking network for eleven years now, and that they have agreed to continue for four more years. It is an example of internationalisation in the best sense, co-operative not competitive, dedicated to the prosperity of all the peoples of the world rather than a narrow few. I know that the programme will equip you for the challenges that you face managing your own ports and transport infrastructure in Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Serbia, even as I know that the staff of our own ports will learn something from you during your time here.
May I wish you all the very best over your next five days in Dublin. I know that you are in the very safe hands of the Dublin Port Company.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh agus beir beanneacht.