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New UK ambassador to Belgium talks Brexit at port of Antwerp

09:40 03/09/2019

The UK’s newly appointed ambassador to Belgium visited the port of Antwerp last week in the midst of government chaos and protest two months ahead of the deadline for the country’s exit from the European Union. Ambassador Martin Shearman (pictured left) met with port authorities to discuss the options of continued trade following Brexit.

“Goods entering or leaving the EU by ferry ports will face more checks and red tape following Brexit,” said the port in a statement. “Brexit means more inspections of people, goods and documents, resulting in higher costs, congestion and longer transit times for ferry transport.”

The port sees, it said, a modal shift to short sea shipping in both ferry and container transport. Short sea container transport refers to unaccompanied goods loaded by crane for non-oceanic crossings.

The port of Antwerp is gearing up for further expansion of short sea links with the UK, it said, hoping to offer “a partial solution to the consequences of Brexit”. The port assured Shearman that “Antwerp will more than ever be the main gateway for trade between Europe and the UK”.

With nearly 17 million tonnes of freight, the UK was the port’s second-largest trading partner in 2018 (after the US). The main goods shipping between the two countries were chemicals, oil products and fast-moving consumer goods like as foodstuffs, toiletries and cosmetics.

Existing and new short sea services between Antwerp and the UK “will undoubtedly gain in importance” in the run-up to Brexit,” said the port, building on present links with nine UK and Irish ports.

“Brexit creates not only challenges but also opportunities for trade between the UK and Ireland on the one hand and the European continent on the other,” said Justin Atkin, port of Antwerp representative to the UK and Ireland. “Having more short sea solutions in the logistics chain will not only mean greater reliability, it will also make us less dependent on trucks for ‘last mile’ transport, as well as reducing costs and CO2 emissions.”

Shortly after the Brexit referendum in 2016, the port of Antwerp launched a taskforce of “Brexperts”, which has since worked closely together with different stakeholders, including the federal customs and food safety agencies and port community and business representatives to mitigate negative consequences for the port.

The Antwerp logistics service providers have a head start, according to the port, because of their experience with non-European shipping transport. This expertise should assist them in a smooth as possible transition to new customs procedures and transit times.

As for Belgium’s customs department, it has hired nearly 400 more staff since the Brexit referendum. “With 930,000 more import declarations and 4.5 million more export declarations, the challenge facing us is enormous,” said Belgian Customs director Kristian Vanderwaeren.

Photo: Martin Shearman (left) and port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren ©Courtesy port of Antwerp

Written by Flanders Today