Tax for large ships in Catalan ports. Opinion

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Nitrogen oxide emissions during port calls by ships are one of the main sources of pollution in the atmosphere.

Maritime transportation, whether cargo or passengers, is one of the main means of transportation in the world, crossing the globe daily and docking at ports to unload.

Even so, it is also true that emissions of nitrogen oxides during port calls by ships are one of the main sources of pollution in the atmosphere, along with sulfur dioxide.

Therefore, with the aim of reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), a legal text has been developed in Catalonia, the initiative of which is based on the need to combat marine pollution, establishing a framework legal system that taxes large ships based on their polluting emissions. 

It is currently in the phase of presenting amendments to the entire tax, so we will still have to wait for its implementation, but we are going to examine the main characteristics of said tax and the possible repercussions.

Main characteristics of the tax

1.- It is a tax of its own, direct and of an extra-fiscal nature, that is, it is a tax created and regulated by the autonomous community itself, which falls on natural or legal persons taking into account the economic capacity of the taxpayer and It has a final objective of improving the quality of the environment.

2.- It taxes emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) and this is because in recent years the emission of this type of harmful gases and particles has increased.

3.- The object of application of the tax is large ships (> 5,000 Tm of gross tonnage), affecting, without distinction, cargo and/or passenger ships that exceed such limit.

4.- The tax base is applied based on different load and emission factors of the engines, operational phase of the ship (approach, anchoring or docking), engine power and time invested in each phase (expressed in hours). Although exemptions and bonuses to the aforementioned tax are contemplated.

5.- The tax rate will be 1 euro/kg for the year 2023, increasing progressively to 3.5 euros/kg in 2026.

6.- The accrual criterion will be applied once the stopover in the Catalan port has ended;

7.- Management system: quarterly self-assessment to be submitted by the consignee.

We see, therefore, that, although it is a tribute that can bring in considerable revenues (about 7 million euros annually in favor of the public coffers: an estimated 760 euros per ship). The capital raised would be allocated to the Fund for the Protection of the Atmospheric Environment, which combats the environmental impact of maritime transport and the reduction of NOx and PM pollution.

Although it is true that the proposal has been accompanied by an intense debate between the different economic agents as its application generates certain doubts, among which we highlight:

1.- Since this is a tax only applicable in Catalonia, could it result in the loss of competitiveness of ports of general interest, such as Tarragona or Barcelona, ​​compared to others free of such a tax?

2.- This “relocation of stops”, in addition to the possible negative impact on the competitiveness of the Catalan economy, could also lead to an increase in land traffic for the transport of goods, consequently increasing the volume of CO2 emissions and producing a opposite effect to the desired one.

It is still too early to draw conclusions or predict the result that the implementation of this new norm is likely to bring us, although before that there remains a regulatory approval process and adaptation to the principles of national and international law. 

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An article by Borja Quereda Rueda, lawyer at International Transport Lawyers

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