Brexit trade disruption ‘better than expected’, says Europe port chief

The head of Europe’s second-biggest shipping port says any Brexit-related trade disruption has been “better than expected”.

Jacques Vandermeiren, chief executive of Port of Antwerp, said that UK trade rose 6pc last year.

Controls on goods coming in and out of the UK following have been blamed for long queues at ports and disruption to supply chains.  

But Mr Vandermeiren said: “For the United Kingdom, it’s better than what we expected… We expected much more trouble in the port.

“From time to time we see the traffic jams in Dover. The shortage of truckers and the difficulties when it comes to customer and border control. This is from time to time heavy.

“But then you have months where you don’t see any trouble at all.”

His remarks come as Antwerp merges with the Port of Zeebrugge, a move that will allow the two companies to better manage busy times of year. “We can switch in case of troubles or congestion,” he said.

“I hope, of course, that it will completely disappear and that the situation will be under control.

“Of course, congestion, when goods come in, in an unpredictable way, in waves of, or even tsunamis of goods during a few days or a week, it always has a huge impact. And especially when you have, at the same time, the implementation of new rules and regulations.”

The Port of Antwerp is the second biggest in Europe, eclipsed only by Rotterdam – which until the early 21st century was the world’s busiest shipping port in terms of trade. 

Mr Vandermeiren’s bullish comments about the ease of trading with the UK came as he warned that the effects were already being felt of plans to force all ferry companies operating in British waters to pay the national minimum wage.

“[It is] why probably we see Ireland becoming a bigger and more important destination.”

Freight ferries are already sending goods bound for the UK to Irish ports in the first instance.

“What we see is already a shift from a direct UK destination to Ireland and via Ireland, going to the United Kingdom,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Vandermeiren raised fears about the closure of Shanghai, the world’s biggest port in response to China’s strict zero-Covid policies.

“There are more than 500 ships that are waiting for entrance in the port of Shanghai, but there are a few hundreds blocked in the port of Shanghai,” he said.

“The immediate consequence [is] an increase of prices for shipping containers. And then they will come back in the supply chain all of a sudden when the lockdown is finished.”

Global supply chains would be “disturbed” as a result, he added. “That’s what happened last year, a few times. And then it’s a mess all over the place.”

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