Major players from Europe's waterborne transport sector gathered in Bremen, Germany, on 25 January to launch a new Technology Platform in the sector and to begin work on developing a common strategic vision of future research needs. The maritime sector is extremely important for Europe. Some 90 per cent of the EU's external trade, and 40 per cent of its internal trade, is transported by sea. Although Europe remains a world leader in the design, manufacture and production of specialist, high technology vessels such as cruise liners and liquefied natural gas tankers, it faces increasing competition from Asia, where the volume of ship production is expanding. Stakeholders recognise that in order to maintain Europe's leading position, the industry must innovate. The EU allows Member State governments to directly subsidise the development of innovative products and processes involved in ship building, as highlighted by EU Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, who attended Germany's fourth national maritime conference. Germany has submitted a new plan to the Commission on this subject, which the Commissioner said should be brought to life as soon as possible. German Minister for Economics and Labour Wolfgang Clement emphasised that help from the state is 'help for self-help', and must be used as such. 'Support for innovation, is also defined in this way,' said Mr Clement. The government understands this funding 'as a kind of coinsurance, which must be paid back if the introduction of the product is successful and the company benefits financially from the innovation,' the minister explained. The Waterborne Transport Technology Platform is the 22nd platform to be established. It brings together industry, national authorities, regulatory bodies, research centres and universities. Together, the partners will seek to stimulate more effective public and private investment in research, and to improve the coherence of research activities at European, national, regional and local level.