Blue Innovation. The 29th of June 2015 was a historic date for Québec. The province adopted a first grand strategy for its maritime economy: the ‘Maritime Strategy by the Year 2030’. What results has the implementation of this strategy already achieved?
Georges Farrah. First of all, I must point out that in May 2014, the Prime Minister of Québec appointed the first-ever minister to this important mission. He also created a Secretariat for Maritime Affairs under the Executive Council, i.e. at the highest level of government. Both were very important decisions. The Secretariat for Maritime Affairs, of which I am today a very proud representative, brings together a talented and highly experienced team that provides me with very effective support in our mission to implement and co-ordinate the Maritime Strategy. The Strategy’s action plan for 2015-2020 has united most of the actors of Québec’s maritime economy, thereby creating a large network of expertise in favour of developing a sustainable and intelligent maritime economy. The creation of the Maritime Québec Network is proof of these efforts, and will spearhead scientific research and co-operation in the province. The interim results of this action plan are very positive. The Maritime Strategy is greatly admired. Québec is innovating, and is now a highly appreciated world-class actor—especially for its contribution on both the Canadian and the international stage.
Given these interim results, how does Québec plan to pursue its efforts?
Québec’s maritime economy is today the object of unprecedented co-ordination between different actors and sectors, and the province is more than ever an ideal place for companies to innovate, settle and invest. During the second half of its action plan, i.e. by 2020, the Strategy must enable us and our governmental, non-governmental and international partners to perfect our knowledge and our work. We notably need to establish a new mode of co-ordination involving as many stakeholders as possible in order for Québec to become, by 2030, a major and successful actor of a blossoming and innovative global maritime economy, i.e. of the ‘blue’ international market economy. We are dealing with a new vision of the maritime economy, with a vision of the blue economy based upon several initiatives: sustainable and intelligent economic development; a rapid reduction of our carbon footprint and environmental impact; and the acquisition of new knowledge as well as new business and technological solutions for traditional and emerging sectors of the economy that will benefit human health and the protection of riverine and maritime ecosystems. This vision’s main focus is the social and economic development of local and regional coastal communities: we are working for Québec as well as for the entire international community.
It is quite remarkable to see how lively Québec’s traditional maritime sectors are, how they constantly innovate in order to remain competitive and raise themselves to the top of international rankings. The port of Montreal, for example, and its veritable ecosystem of logistical and transport companies are some of the most efficient and advanced of their kind in the world. Québec is also working hard to ensure the growth of emerging sectors. Could you give us an example of this?
You are quite right. Québec is working very dynamically to support both the traditional and emerging sectors of its maritime economy. In the traditional sectors, which include maritime transport and port facilities, shipbuilding and sailing, we are currently focusing on nineteenth-century means of innovation—notably in order to drive the development of the international intelligent navigation and autonomous ship sectors. One of our greatest sources of hope in this regard is the presence in Montreal and in Québec City of some of the highest concentrations of universities, international organizations and brains in the fields of artificial intelligence, optics and environmental sciences. These sectors must find technical solutions to a range of problems—from the increasing demand for electricity and solar, wind or low-carbon energies (e.g. natural gas) to the need to reduce negative impacts upon marine ecosystems and mammals. As for the emerging branches of our maritime economy, I am particularly proud of the example set by Québec’s marine biotechnology sector, which constitutes one of the flagships of the blue economy.
When we launched the Maritime Strategy in 2015, we had high hopes for the strong potential for growth of a young network of research organizations and businesses that were seeking to responsibly harvest algae and marine products and commercialise marine biomass. After various studies and analysis, we decided to strengthen the co-ordination of this network and to help it to evolve. A ministerial delegation of 26 representatives was set up and played an active part in the 2016 BioMarine Congress in Oslo. A year later, Québec itself hosted this congress in the town of Rimouski. H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and the Prime Minister of Québec both bore witness to how constructive Québec’s efforts had been in this regard, along with the president of BioMarine and officials representing Portugal, Argentina, France, the European Commission and Canada herself. Our government subsequently decided to offer the Québecois community an action plan, the creation of an executive committee for the industrial cluster and a dedicated source of funds (the Blue Fund)—all in order to help the marine biotechnology sector to expand to every region of Québec. Today, this sector of Québec’s economy is taking part in a more united and strategic manner in joint efforts to find solutions, working alongside the international community of marine biotechnologies—as the members of our sector’s executive committee will be explaining during the 2018 BioMarine Congress to be held in Cascais in Portugal. I would also encourage you to visit our website, Biomarine.org, in order to find out more about our work.
Canada and the European Union recently signed their Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Will CETA have an impact upon Québec’s maritime economy?
Yes. CETA, whose terms have provisionally been in force for a year, is notably of great benefit to the Port of Montreal’s economic activity: Europe accounted for half of the 25% increase in imports (number of containers) over the past year, and we believe that CETA is one of the reasons for this increase.
Over the coming years, we foresee a substantial increase in both exports and imports between Canada and Europe, and therefore a commensurate increase in the volume of transport along the Saint Lawrence River. This of course implies denser maritime traffic to and from ports and industries up and down the Saint Lawrence, but we are alert to the greater risk of accidents that this could cause. In this regard, 2017 saw the creation of a Centre of expertise for managing the risk of maritime incidents (CEGRIM). In collaboration with the Canadian government, we hope that CEGRIM will equip Québec with an operational structure for prevention and preparation that meets the highest international standards. It is also indispensable that the expected growth of maritime transport traffic be accompanied by sustainable measures to ensure that this traffic is both intelligently managed and that it emits fewer greenhouse gases, respecting the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement and relevant decisions of the International Maritime Organization. Along with the France-Québec Institute that we set up in October 2016 in order to support scientific co-operation in the maritime sector—and whose Bilateral Committee is chaired by France’s Maritime Secretary-General and myself—we intend to work towards an exemplary implementation of CETA in the maritime transport sector in order to develop the knowledge and the instruments we need for the most effective decision-making possible.
Canada hosted the last G7 Summit at Charlevoix in Québec in June 2018. Its five main themes included climate change, the oceans and clean energy. What did you take away from this summit?
The summit succeeded in arousing the interest of many peoples and governments around the world in some of the blue economy’s main goals, and gave rise to various debates e.g. on the problems of plastic, ballast waters and overfishing. The problem of plastics in our oceans is particularly interesting. Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the European Union agreed upon an Ocean Plastics Charter, which represents a very positive step for the environment. In this regard, I really must underline the planned international consortium on biodegradable bioplastics that is to be discussed during the BioMarine Congress in Cascais on the 3rd of October. Four organizations and companies from Québec will take part in these discussions, and we plan to closely follow this project’s development as well as its implications for the province’s marine biotechnology sector. On the 8th of June, during the G7 Summit, the Prime Minister of Québec welcomed officials and representatives of over 12 countries and international organizations, and a grand reception was held on the blue economy in order to support the creation and development of networks between these guests and representatives of the main actors of Québec’s maritime economy.
In conclusion, Mr Farrah, what blue economy projects do you feel are the most important over the next few months and years?
The first project is to unite Québec’s energies for the development of this new nineteenth-century blue economy in our era of the knowledge, digital, artificial intelligence and circular economies. The Secretariat for Maritime Affairs plans to integrate a planned blue economy charter for Québec within the Maritime Strategy’s action plan for 2020-2025.
The second project is that of creating a shared technological platform for storing and acquiring data and knowledge that can help us tackle all the challenges Québec’s economy faces, both on land and at sea, and in order to provide more effective indicators by which progress can be monitored. I am convinced that the success of our efforts to develop the blue economy rests upon closer co-operation between all stakeholders in order to ensure that the organizations and companies of each sector will be capable of making the best decisions, both in Québec as well as on the international stage