Brexit has been disastrous for EU-UK trade, but an unexpected beneficiary is the port of Antwerp which has seen its share of UK trade increase thanks to a transition away from rail transport.
The port of Antwerp recently merged with the port of Bruges to become the port of Antwerp-Bruges. It is now Europe’s largest export port and has seen an unexpected increase in trade activity following the UK’s disorderly exit from the EU.
“We are a Brexit winner,” said Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges.
“As the total trade between the UK and Europe shrinks, our slice of the now smaller pie has gotten bigger,” he added.
As traffic jams filled with hundreds of lorries stopped at UK customs grabbed headlines, logistics companies have moved away from rail due to complications with border checks.
“Freight forwarders prefer to move their goods in containers from Antwerp to a port in the UK rather than trucking them to a port like Calais or even Zeebrugge,” the port’s CEO told EURACTIV.
For trucks and rail, “you have wait times, queues at gates and border control, not only on the goods but also on the trucker. And you have that both ways,” Vandermeiren explained.
“It’s a nightmare.”
He attributed the port’s competitive advantage to the various infrastructures it has.
When loading a ship, the load could be inspected and cleared through customs, he said, which ensured that customers in the port of Antwerp did not suffer from uncertainties related to traffic jams or customs problems.
When asked if the port of Antwerp is a Brexit profiteer, Vandermeiren explained: “When it comes to volumes, we are winners.”
His statements were echoed by Dirk De fauw, Mayor of Bruges, who told attendees of the official announcement of the merger of the two ports that Bruges had experienced an increase in volumes due to Brexit.
Ireland is a winner
But these Belgian ports may not be the only unexpected Brexit profiteers.
“Now that the UK is no longer the main gateway for UK-bound goods, many freight forwarders prefer to send their goods to Ireland and then ship them to the UK,” Vandermeiren said.
“We’ve seen a boom towards Ireland, especially this year, but his other players, other distances,” he added.
“But for Antwerp, it’s still market share growth.”
[Edited by Alice Taylor]