Lisbon Hosts Inaugural Portugal Shipping Week as Country’s “Blue Economy” Rides a Growth Wave

Last week, representatives from the global shipping sector met to discuss both ongoing trends and future opportunities in the maritime industry. This event coincides with various policy initiatives that have led to an impressive expansion of Portugal’s “blue economy”.

Portugal’s Minister of the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino, chaired the first ever Portugal Shipping Week in Lisbon, which took place from September 17 to 21. The event was attended by international shipowners, operators, investors as well as Portuguese policymakers who discussed emerging trends and business opportunities in the global shipping industry, and Portugal’s maritime sector in particular.

One of the major attractions was the Seatrade Cruise Med 2018. Around 150 cruise line representatives attended, making it the largest cruise industry gathering focused on the Mediterranean region. This is significant, given that Portugal’s cruise industry is on track to have its best ever yet in terms of passenger numbers and ship stopovers in its ports.

This inaugural event is just the latest example of the government’s commitment to transforming its maritime sector. With a strong history of overseas exploration and a coastline 942 kilometres long, Portugal is one of Europe’s oldest maritime powers. Nevertheless, the government isn’t content to wax nostalgic for its maritime industry of yonder years. Instead, it has taken a proactive role to support its dynamic ocean economy.

Speaking ahead of the event, Portuguese Minister of the Sea stated “During this week Portugal becomes the centre of discussion and networking for the international port industry and shipping community, inviting the maritime world to discover the massive potential that this country offers in these sectors, as it creates a privileged circumstance to stimulate new partnerships and businesses.”

Of note is the fact that the Ministry of Sea is a relatively new government department, having been created in 2015 with a focus on carrying out the government’s ambitions for the Portuguese “blue economy”.  This particular section of the economy refers to economic activities that rely on the ocean or coastal areas including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, energy, and biotechnology. As such, the ministry oversees maritime affairs, the development of a sustainable ocean economy, and crafts ocean policies that consider the latest scientific discoveries and technological innovations.

Even in 2014, the EU already controlled 60 percent of the world’s container ships in gross tonnage terms. Copyright: Beketoff/

The Portuguese government currently has in place its National Ocean Strategy 2013 – 2020, a policy initiative designed to promote the long-term growth and competitiveness of the country’s blue economy. The strategy focuses on attracting both domestic and international investment, increasing the ocean sector’s share of nation GDP to around 50 percent, and strengthening Portugal’s scientific and technological capacity.

In order to support these goals, the government has introduced a series of targeted measures such as the modernisation of its maritime administration systems, the development of a digital port management system, and the introduction of a more competitive tonnage tax. It has also applied to extend its maritime economic zone by an additional 150 miles, which would make it the 10th largest in the world.

The National Ocean Strategy has coincided with the remarkable development of Portugal’s maritime industry. Its expansion has outpaced national GDP growth for a decade, with the blue economy’s output valued at more than 4 billion euros last year. This impressive growth rate has translated into significant employment opportunities, with the industry’s share of total employment increasing by 22 percent between 2009 and 2016.

Portugal’s buoyant maritime sector is in line with general industry trends across the EU.  The European maritime economy represents 1.3 percent of the EU’s GDP and employs around 3.5 million people. According to Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, “The EU’s blue economy is consistently growing over the last decade and the potential for the future is promising. With investments in innovation and through responsible ocean management…we can double the sector in a sustainable way by 2030.” There are therefore good reasons to be hopeful about the future prospects of not only Portugal’s maritime sector, but of EU’s blue economy at large.

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Katrina Pirner

Katrina is a Berlin-based freelance writer who focuses on economics, disruptive technology and politics. She’s previously worked in Canada, Italy, Belgium, and the US. Katrina holds a MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University where she concentrated in European political economy.

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