Intertanko managing director Dr Peter Swift
has urged the maritime industry
to embrace self-policing and self-promotion in a bid to increase political
and public appreciation of shipping's contribution to society.
"Our industry is largely invisible," he declared as guest speaker at IMPA
2004, the International Marine Purchasing Association
's conference and
exhibition in London. "There is little awareness among politicians or
society in general of their dependence on the services we provide or the
effective manner in which we go about our business."
Dr Swift said his members - who include more than 240 independent tanker
owners - carried some 60% of the oil and chemicals consumed worldwide.
"We are all beneficiaries of their day in, day out efficiency and
reliability," he observed. "Sea transport represents just one pence per
litre of the price we pay for petrol in the UK, five cents in the USA and
ten yen in Japan."
Yet public interest was stirred only on the rare headline-making occasions
when something went wrong. "Unfortunately that prompts a rash of
counter-productive legislative measures," he complained. "It seems
disproportionate given that shipping is highly regulated, its safety record
is the envy of other industries and it is the most environmentally friendly
form of commercial transport."
The industry required consistent, international regulation and legislation
rather than a diverse regional approach, Dr Swift asserted. It also needed
to encourage the dismantling of artificial trade barriers.
Suggesting internal and external initiatives to secure these objectives, Dr
Swift said that maritime trade associations must promote the highest levels
of professional standards and transparency. "It's true that one rotten
apple can spoil the barrel," he acknowledged, "so we must be sure to adopt
policies of zero tolerance for any instances of sub-standard practices."
Meanwhile it was vital for the industry to communicate its achievements and
requirements to governments and the public at large. "Society needs
reminding that 40,000 ocean-going ships are plying their trade in highly
capable fashion in the most hostile environments," said Dr Swift.
"We should not need to remind our political friends that international
transport is totally reliant on a healthy maritime industry but we must work
hard to ensure they receive a positive impression," he added.
"We must also deliver the message that they too have an important role to
play in ensuring a free market and level playing fields so that we can
compete fairly in a global scenario."
Dr Swift was among more than 800 participants at IMPA 2004 - a 33% increase
on the record set at last year's 25th anniversary event. Attendance was
boosted by the biggest exhibition in the show's history, with space at
Kensington Town Hall extended by 30% across three floors to accommodate over
100 stands. Next year's show is already virtually sold out after most
exhibitors re-booked on site.
The IMPA Debate
The conference programme also featured a major forum on the case for
co-operation between buyers and suppliers.
Chaired by Captain Stephen Bligh, chief executive of the UK's Maritime &
Coastguard Agency, the IMPA Debate aired the key conclusions reached during
earlier workshops in which purchase and supply delegates set out their
respective criteria for doing business with each other.
Acknowledging the modern trend towards partnership sourcing, there was
widespread support for collaborative rather than combative business
relationships in situations where each side stood to benefit - such as
purchasers wanting to encourage R&D or suppliers wanting to nurture
promising new customers.
On the other hand, it was emphasised that selling organisations categorised
customers according to value of business and their attractiveness on issues
including speed of payment and ability to make decisions. Unattractive low
spenders would be "lost without pain" while unattractive high spenders were
liable to be exploited for short-term gain.
Purchasers also admitted to a horses-for-courses approach depending on
market circumstances. As one delegate explained: "If there are only one or
two producers for a main engine part, they hold the big cards so we need a
relationship. But that's not relevant if we're buying chicken - it's very
easy for us to control the consumables market and get competition."
The other main conclusions revealed similarly mixed views. Purchasers
thought a reduction in the number of preferred suppliers was inevitable for
the foreseeable future, whereas suppliers warned that such consolidation ran
the risk of eliminating competition.
Some delegates supported the notion that all negotiations were about win-win
outcomes but others clung to the view that most buyer-seller relationships
in the marine industry were adversarial.
"There's a real danger of getting too friendly with suppliers," said one
delegate. "It can be difficult to get the balance between a personal and a
professional, technical-based relationship. In those circumstances you need
to have an understanding that it's OK to try other suppliers."
Others predicted that the speed and scope of e-commerce would force a
dramatic change in buyer-supplier communication. Against this, delegates
argued that it was easy to get the price via the Internet but hard to
establish total life cycle cost without personal relationships.
In what amounted to an endorsement of the IMPA Debate initiative
Bligh concluded: "It just goes to show that most things can be resolved if
we talk to each other. We can't do without the human interface. In the end
it comes down to trust and relationships."