Admiral Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), attended on Sunday morning the international conference the SCA organized under the title ‘The Suez Canal and Challenges in World Trade’ as part of Expo 2020 Dubai.
The conference discussed how to support global trade amid different challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the policies and procedures adopted to ensure the sustainability of the services the SCA offers and the continuation of the flow of global trade through the Suez Canal, which is the lifeline of supply the world over.
Nevine Gamea, the Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry, participated in the seminar via videoconference. Other participants included Yehia Zaki, Chairman of the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and a host of officials working in the maritime transport sector locally, regionally and globally, as well as representatives of the most prominent international commercial and maritime associations, institutions, companies, and shipping lines.
Taking part in the international conference were: Rumaih bin Muhammad Al-Rumaih, President of the Public Transport Authority in Saudi Arabia; Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, CEO of Fleet and Strategic Brands at Mærsk; Guy Platten, Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Shipping; Keiji Tomoda, Vice President of the Japanese Shipowners’ Association; and Yasser Zaghloul, Group CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ National Marine Dredging Company.
Launching the conference, Admiral Rabie welcomed the attendees, the partners in business and success, who attended the event to exchange ideas and visions that serve the interests of the global navigation community and the maritime transport industry and that are meant to shape the future of the industry in the medium and long terms. He saluted the organizers of Expo 2020 Dubai for hosting this important event, expressing his pride in the success of this edition, which has captured the world’s attention.
In his speech, Admiral Rabie stressed the importance of the concerted efforts of all the parties in the maritime transport industry to maximize available resources to face various changes and unprecedented challenges to the global trade movement. The most prominent of these challenges is the coronavirus pandemic and its variants and climate change and its grave repercussions, which may reshape the map of global trade movement and related logistical operations for decades to come.
Admiral Rabie stressed that the SCA is fully aware of the challenges the world has been facing over the past two decades and which still cast a large shadow on the global trade movement and the global supply chain. These challenges resulted in the biggest lockdown humanity has ever known, he added.
The SCA chairman spoke about a number of successful experiences through which the authority was able to overcome enormous challenges and turn them into opportunities for success and growth, such as overcoming the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis and its repercussions on global trade movement thanks to the direct support of the political leadership and the adoption of a number of thoroughly studied measures and flexible pricing and marketing policies. The SCA did all of this while supporting the global trade movement, customers, and shipping companies and lines operating in the field of maritime transport, preserving the safety of workers in the Suez Canal and ensuring that infection does not spread among them, while increasing the revenues of the canal, which is one of the most important hard currency earners for the Egyptian economy, the admiral stated.
These marketing policies have succeeded in attracting 4,920 new ships in 2021 that had not previously passed through the Suez Canal, and achieved an increase in revenues of $1.1 billion, he pointed out.
Admiral Rabie explained that the SCA has made great strides towards enhancing the use of digital technology as part of its ambitious strategy for 2023. The authority has succeeded in completing the design and construction of two advanced data centers in conjunction with the implementation of the comprehensive digital transformation of the electronic monitoring system and the 16 navigational guidance stations along the course of the canal. The authority has also made a unified network system that allowed the launch of five electronic services entirely directed to international shipping lines.
Citing the success of the SCA’s digital transformation system in achieving its goals, Admiral Rabie said the authority implemented a remote reception and guidance operation, which was the first of its kind, for one of the largest cruise passenger ships in the world without the presence of an SCA guide on board, as is the procedure, due to the presence of 65 confirmed coronavirus cases on board the ship.
The SCA chairman stressed that the authority’s development strategy also focused on the environmental dimension, which is in line with achieving the objectives of the Egypt Vision 2030 strategy and the Egyptian state’s wish to take effective steps towards achieving carbon neutrality and cementing efforts to curb the repercussions of climate change. This is the framework under which Egypt was chosen to host the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in November.
The authority has adopted all the necessary measures and procedures to ensure the announcement of the Suez Canal as a “green canal” and to work on reducing carbon emissions for transiting ships by providing various incentives for shipping lines that observe environmental standards, he said.
Admiral Rabie referred to the mega vessel Ever Given, sailing under the flag of Panama, that blocked the Suez Canal, as being a practical example of how the SCA overcomes crises and is able to turn challenges into opportunities. The SCA’s various specialized team members were able to float the ship safely in only six days, despite the expectations of experts in the maritime transport and global rescue sector that the flotation process would take weeks or months, rendering the incident the focus of the world’s attention.
In her speech, Gamea, the Minister of Trade and Industry, stressed the government’s keenness to maximize the economic benefit of the Suez Canal on the regional and international levels to boost Egypt’s position as a global commercial and logistics hub. She added that the global trade movement is currently facing many challenges, the most important of which is the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a decrease in global trade growth rates as a result of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and border closures, in addition to the rising prices of energy, and subsequently the increase in the cost of freight and transportation.
The minister stated that the Egyptian government adopted many exceptional measures that aided in the resumption of work in the industrial sector during the pandemic, which contributed to the availability of goods and services in the local market. She explained that many exceptional measures were taken to facilitate the release of goods for the continuation of trade movement and supply chains. Minister Gamea added that her ministry worked in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport to raise the efficiency of customs release systems by linking the concerned authorities electronically and beginning the implementation of the system in October 2021, which contributed to reducing the time for releasing raw materials needed for industries.
Minister Gamea explained that the Ministry of Trade and Industry has implemented a comprehensive strategy to gain access to more markets and enhance the competitiveness of Egyptian products to reach the target of $100 billion in exports annually, pointing out that the Egyptian Council for Export has been reconstituted under the leadership of H. E. President of Egypt Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Plans and policies to maximize exports were designed while activating the role of the Export Development Fund, developing a network of trade partnerships with foreign markets, and benefiting from regional integration and preferential trade agreements.
These measures contributed to a leap in Egyptian exports, which exceeded $31 billion in 2021, in addition to the increase in the contribution of industrial production to GDP to reach 17 percent during fiscal year 2019/2020, up from about 16 percent in fiscal year 2018/2019, the minister added.
Minister Gamea pointed out that the Egyptian government welcomes the promotion of joint commercial and industrial cooperation with all countries to maximize their investments in Egypt and benefit from the advantages offered by the Egyptian market. The most important of these is access to global markets through preferential trade agreements reached between Egypt and many countries and regional and international groupings, which provide nearly 2.6 billion people around the world with access to Egyptian products.
Zaki, the Chairman of the Suez Canal Economic Zone, announced in his speech the launch of ship fueling and marine services in the economic zone in the coming months. The zone is adding the final touches to activate these services and to study the offers it has received, he said, pointing out that marine and fueling services are some of the goals stated in the Economic Zone Strategy 2020-2025. He added that projects for the green hydrogen industry in the zone will be announced in conjunction with Egypt’s hosting of COP27 in November.
Zaki stated that the Suez Canal Economic Zone is a promising investment destination with a total area of 461 square kilometers, comprising four industrial zones and six seaports. It is located on the main international sea route and is an attractive platform for many industries with its comprehensive ports, logistics, and industrial areas, which enjoy world-class infrastructure and utility networks, including electric power, water desalination, water supply and wastewater treatment plants, in addition to telecommunications and natural gas.
Zaki stressed that the Suez Canal Economic Zone has succeeded in achieving its objectives, which focused on creating opportunities to attract diversified investments, pointing out that the economic zone targeted about 15 industrial and logistical sectors, three of which have already been contracted, namely the petrochemical industries that are located in Ain Sokhna, and industries for railroad supplies, green hydrogen and marine services, in addition to participating in the Egyptian state’s plan to localize the automobile industries.
Suez Canal sees strong growth despite challenges
The Suez Canal has retained its importance as the most vital navigational waterway in the world for more than 150 years, thanks to its unique strategic location that places it at the heart of the global trade movement and makes it the lifeline of global supply chains, especially those related to global maritime trade. Ninety percent of the world’s seaborne trade passes through the Suez Canal.
Despite the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, the subsequent fragility of global economic conditions, and the recent global supply chain disruptions, the SCA succeeded in overcoming these challenges after it was able to guide more than 20,000 ships with a total tonnage of more than 1 billion tons annually to cross the most important shipping lane in the world.