The Trade and Environment Review 2023 “Building a Sustainable and Resilient Ocean Economy beyond 2030” published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) notes that the year 2022 was a “super year” for the oceans and was marked by significant initiatives wherein the international community exhibited ‘new waves of commitments’. It also records that in 2020 the export value of ocean-based goods and services (goods-US$ 681.4 billion and services-US$ 628.2 billion) was US$1.3 trillion which corresponds to about 6 per cent of global trade (total global trade in 2020 was $23 trillion). Further, marine ecosystems services, for which markets don’t exist, are estimated to be worth at least $24 trillion.
In terms of pegging order (2020), the European Union was at the top of the pack (US$ 459 billion) followed by China (US$ 160 billion), and the United States of America (US$ 84 billion); India (US$ 34 billion) was at the seventh position, and among the developing countries, second largest exporter of ocean-based goods and services after China.
It is widely acknowledged that a sophisticated architecture is critical for harnessing the full potential of the ocean wealth in a sustainable manner. While the engagement of the governments through robust policy is the bedrock for its development and growth, the involvement of businesses and industries is inescapable. In this context maritime clusters have emerged as the hub for an agglomeration of associated-interlinked industries whose focus is on the promotion of maritime goods and services. It also involves other stakeholders such as financial institutions, Chambers of Commerce, investors, operators as well as innovators, scientists and the academia. For instance a cluster comprising of shipping companies, port operators, logistic supply chain managers and offshore industries is a good example of maritime transportation cluster wherein these entities network with contractors, ship chandler and operators.
Maritime Clusters are mushrooming across the globe and offer numerous opportunities for industries and businesses to participate and partake from them. For example, project Blue Pass is an initiative of the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Marihub, a leading e-commerce service provider for commercial ships and maritime companies, are partnering in a cluster wherein local and international maritime organisations are able to exchange-provide their services. This platform is like an online business directory i.e. Yellow Pages and can be labelled as IYP or Internet Yellow Pages.
The Blue Pass is an online portal supported by a smart app which creates a “unified database of maritime companies, commercial ships, yachts, and recreational vessels operating in the ports and territorial waters of the UAE” and offer services “transparently and seamlessly” with the “added benefit of utilizing e-commerce to provide supplies and support services at competitive prices”. Blue Pass is expected to “enhance the competitiveness” and act as the catalyst for catapulting the UAE’s national maritime sector as the regional-global maritime hub for the new knowledge and data-based maritime economy.
The Singapore Maritime Cluster Fund (MCF) under the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) not only assists maritime operations or expansion of the industry (manpower and business development) it co-funds companies in the development of manpower, training initiatives and capabilities targeted for the maritime sector.
At home, Gujarat Maritime Cluster (GMC), the first of its kind, is the initiative of the Government of Gujarat and “enables synergetic collaboration among the maritime / shipping industry players, logistics service providers and relevant government regulatory agencies”. It was set up in 2021 by the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) in Gandhinagar, Gujarat and its agenda includes commercial services as also legal support in the form of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centre precluding dependence on International Arbitration Centers located outside the country. The GMC is also supported by the Gujarat Maritime University which offers a variety of professional maritime courses and is a good example of industry-academia partnership.
While the maritime clusters pursue their respective business agendas, they also have the responsibility of ensuring the health of the oceans. It is well known that the oceans are under stress due to a host of anthropogenic factors (illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, marine pollution, urbanization of coastal zones, habitat loss, unstable resources exploitation) and nature induced phenomenon (climate change induced global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification and oxygen-depletion) which exacerbate health of the marine ecosystem that is built around a complex food chain. Greening of shipping and maritime supply chains through decarbonisation and the challenges of plastic litter and other ocean waste must necessarily figure prominently in the Cluster agenda.
India’s Blue Economy indicators are quite promising and therefore necessitate enhanced focus by the industry. It merits mention that the contribution of Blue Economy to India’s GDP currently stands at approximately four per cent and the national policy aims to increase it to double digits by 2047. For that, the coastal state governments would need to invest in Maritime Clusters and support Blue Economy development efforts.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Honorary Distinguished Fellow with CPPR and associated with our Centre for Strategic Studies. Dr. Sakhuja, a former Indian Navy officer, is also former Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He earned his MPhil and PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He specializes in issues of national security and public policy, particularly in the context of ocean affairs, geopolitics, Climate Change, Arctic, Blue Economy and 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies.