The century of the sea

Francis Vallat
3 May 2013

2 min read

The oceans are playing a vital role in globalization of the world’s economy, making this century the most maritime-focused in history.

As early as the 15th century, Vasco de Gama’s sea routes threatened the established power of the Venetians by delivering Chinese products to Lisbon five times cheaper than they were available in Venice, confirming the importance of the maritime trade. Today, with 90% of the world’s merchandise transported by sea, totaling €1,500 billion in revenues, our planet’s economy heavily depends on maritime trade. The flow of shipments increased five-fold in the past 30 years, and will double again by 2020¹. The cost to ship 20 tons of merchandise from Asia to Europe today is cheaper than an economy- class airline ticket!

Besides these economic stakes, the sea is the earth’s future, especially in areas such as energy, food, pharmacology, and mineral resources available deep in the oceans. Today, only 10% of the ocean’s flora and fauna and 5% of underwater soils have been discovered. The oceans are one of the key assets of our planet, whose resources are threatened with exhaustion. With humans dumping 6 million tons of garbage in the Earth’s waters every year, and plastic waste that totals billions in the Mediterranean sea alone – of which 80% originates from individuals²– environmental protection is clearly an essential concern.

Globalization is also a wonderful opportunity. Consider France, for example. Accounting for approximately 310,000 jobs (not including port industries and coastal tourism) – that is more than the entire automotive industry – and more than €50 billion in production value, France has a role to play in global maritime trade. French expertise and quality excellence in 11 major maritime professions³ are great assets against offshoring.

Beyond France, all of Europe is concerned and can benefit from an evolution of the industry, for which it has a number of assets, with €484 billion of added value per year and 5.4 million jobs (7 million by 2020⁴. The “blue growth” concept, illustrated by the Limassol declaration⁵, is based on these numerous advantages: the importance of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)⁶, the dynamism of the maritime sector of the European Union in all areas, and a merchant marine that represents 40% of the world’s maritime industry, a sector that sustains incredible growth even in these times of economic crisis.

These facts emphasize that the sea plays a central role in the challenge that sustainable development represents, in every sense of the two words “sustainable” and “development.”

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