Port of Liverpool to increase strategic importance after Brexit

Port of Liverpool container terminal. Credit: N Johannes/Wikipedia

Britain’s exit from the European Union presents opportunities for the Port of Liverpool, a senior official with parent company Peel Ports said in an interview.

“Our strategy for a number of years has been about enabling our infrastructure to be used by supply chains to reduce the total cost of that supply chain,” Stephen Carr, group commercial director for Peel Ports, said.

Liverpool’s pitch is based on its geography and its facilities. Mostly, its pitch centres about being the first significant port on the European side of the Atlantic, which allows it to lay claim to the marginal extra volumes any future trade deal with the United States will generate.

Half of the volume coming into the United Kingdom is destined for the north of England, everything above a line across Britain from Bristol to Hull. Vessels serving north of that could use a southern or eastern port such as Southampton or Felixstowe, but well might baulk at the cost of on-land movement.

It might cost a vessel an extra USD50 or USD100 more to come to Liverpool, but it then saves up to USD500 on the road transport (not to mention hours and carbon) by being nearer, pointed out Carr.

“Liverpool’s proposition is about being close to the market,” he added.

Another market Liverpool can keep on serving post-Brexit is Ireland, which does not have its own deep-sea container terminal and is only eight hours from Liverpool. This is against two days for ports such as Rotterdam and Le Havre. Across the Irish Sea would also be a transshipment trade, meaning no disruptive tariff issues.

Not that the post-Brexit trade deals the UK will be able to sign, once it has fully quit the EU, are without significance. Getting these inked will take time; however, the deal could usher in long-term benefits, particularly substantial ones to Liverpool.

“We could move away from continental Europe, which favours ports on the south and east towards trading with the rest of the world. Liverpool is in a good position to exploit those trade deals with the rest of the world,” Carr said.

Whatever happens and wherever trade comes from, Liverpool is confident of its ability to move it.

Currently, the Port of Liverpool can deal with 2.5 million teu. This is split between the existing terminal, which can accommodate 900,000 teu and deals largely with European short sea and niche services, and the new terminal where the second phase of growth has just started and will complete in 2021, Carr said.

Backing this up is some 280,000–380,000 square metres of warehousing space and bulk handling facilities, as well as facilities further upstream such as Port Salford and Port Cheshire, Carr added.