Port of Antwerp sees Brexit as chance to reroute trade

Harbour cranes, containers ships, and oil tanker vessel on a sunny morning in the port of Antwerp. Shutterstock
Harbour cranes, containers ships, and oil tanker vessel on a sunny morning in the port of Antwerp. Shutterstock

Regardless of what the result of the Brexit negotiations will be, the port of Antwerp is confident that talks and preparations that have happened due to the UK’s exit from the EU are a chance to reroute trade in future.

Each year, over 16 million tonnes of cargo are handled between the Port of Antwerp and the UK, making the latter Belgium’s second largest maritime trade partner.

At a roadshow held in London and Birmingham, the port’s representatives talked attendees through its own preparations that have been taking place since 2016, two weeks after the referendum took place.

While port CEO Jacques Vandermeiren said especially a no-deal Brexit would be a tragedy, it might also pose a chance of change.

“Companies are reviewing their supply chains,” Justin Atkin, port representative UK & Ireland said at the event attended by DPC. This includes seeing what other UK ports are available for trade and looking at modal shifts around hinterland connections.

Part of the port’s Brexit taskforce included meetings with politicians and EU and UK companies. It also emphasises its storage capacity – 7.2 million m3 tank storage, 6.1 million m2 covered space, and 680,000 m3 of silo storage – and the modern border management facilities including X-ray scanners and food safety controls as a key benefit of calling at the port.

While the port itself is confident that it has taken appropriate measures to ensure potential additional border controls will be handled swiftly, talks with local companies in Belgium have shown that especially small businesses are not prepared for this. “These companies are not used to dealing with customs as they mainly trade within the EU,” Belgium Customs’ counsellor-general Werner Rens said.

However, the companies are not aware that, for example, through e-commerce they have bought items from the UK, a transaction that, in a no-deal scenario, might result in future tariffs. The port of Antwerp therefore took to calling around 5,000 companies to inform them about these potential developments and supply them with a customs number to trade.

Part of the roadshow stop in Birmingham was a visit to Jaguar’s production plant. “Jaguar told us they rely on timely delivery of goods, they only have a 36-minute leeway before production has to stop if they don’t arrive as Jaguar doesn’t have storage space at the plant,” Atkin said.