Brexit – Challenges and Opportunities
With some notable exceptions, it’s probably fair to say that most of UK ports are relatively calm about Brexit, although the wider impact on the British economy remains unclear. The challenge will be to find a solution outside the Customs Union which does not interrupt and delay the UK’s roll-on roll-off ferry traffic, which currently facilitates thousands of lorry journeys between Britain and Europe each day. We are not there yet and ahead of this week’s EU Council summit the British Ports Association has urged the UK Government and the EU to find a creative and sensible solution.
By value this traffic represents a high proportion of the UK’s international trade and delays will lead to higher costs for certain businesses and products which ultimately will be felt by traders and even consumers.
We very much welcomed some of the intentions in the Government’s customs negotiating papers published in August, however quite how the EU will view these is not yet known. The Government has certainly been listening to industry and UK Ministers must now decide if they want to give future trade arrangements with the EU the highest priority in the negotiations.
There has been much attention on agreeing a free trade deal with the EU but it is important not to overlook potentially more costly disruption created from non-tariff barriers at the border. So far the issues of trade facilitation at the border have been well publicised but we are concerned that the recent UK-EU stalemate means that bureaucratic customs checks and potentially disruptive port health controls is a distinct possibility for all types of port traffic with Europe.
As well as these challenges there are a number of potential post Brexit opportunities and generally UK ports are looking at opportunities such as new trade and initiatives like free trade zones after the UK leaves the EU. We are also discussing with Government how the planning framework might be made to work better for ports and developers.
There is a long way to go but Brexit does provide the opportunity to make the consenting process more amenable to support growth and development at all types and sizes of port. We have particularly welcomed recent pledges by UK Ports Minister John Hayes MP that the UK intended to overturn the recently passed EU Port Services Regulation post Brexit.
Finally, fish landings remain a common activity at all types of port across the UK and our members see Brexit as an opportunity for the UK Government to exert more control over our own waters. However tariff-free access to EU markets is essential and of the utmost importance. Norway and Iceland both manage their own fisheries, have healthy fish stocks and trade with the EU. We would like to see a similar arrangement for the UK.
The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and its precursors have also been critical to supporting the maintenance and modernisation of infrastructure. UK allocations have been a relatively modest sum for Government and is vital to the UK’s fishing ports and the wider sector.