The Port of Antwerp stands to gain from the looming exit of the UK from the European Union, saying preparations are underway to anticipate a shift from the ferry to container transport by shortsea shipping.
Once Brexit comes in full-swing, the port operator said goods entering or leaving the EU by ferry ports will face more checks and red tape which means more inspections of people, goods and documents, resulting in higher costs, congestion and longer transit times for ferry transport.
"While the uncertainty over Brexit continues, one thing is clear: as soon as the UK leaves the European Union, in whichever form, there will be radical changes in the transport of goods between the two regions. Port of Antwerp foresees a modal shift from ferry to container transport by shortsea shipping," the Belgian port said in a statement.
Europe's second-largest port noted that it anticipates accompanied trucks will increasingly be replaced by shortsea container transport or unaccompanied goods loaded on board by crane for non-oceanic crossings.
"Port of Antwerp is, therefore, gearing up for further expansion of shortsea links with the UK, thus offering at least part of the solution for the consequences of Brexit," it added, noting that the recent visit of newly appointed British ambassador Martin Shearman to the port is indication that after Brexit, Antwerp "will more than ever be the main gateway for trade between Europe and the UK."
The UK is the second-largest trading partner of the Port of Antwerp with nearly 17 million tonnes of freight mainly chemicals, oil products and fast-moving consumer goods (foodstuffs, toiletries, and cosmetics).
"Existing and new shortsea services between Antwerp and the British Isles will undoubtedly gain in importance in the run-up to Brexit and after 31 October 2019, building on the present links with nine UK and Irish ports," the port said in its statement.
The port said it is ready for the anticipated Brexit, as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently secured the Queen's approval to suspend the Parliament to ensure that Brexit happens on Oct. 31, 2019.
It said shortly after the British Brexit referendum in 2016, Port of Antwerp's taskforce of "Brexperts" has worked closely together with different stakeholders including the Belgian Customs, the Belgian Food Safety Agency and major port community and business representatives to mitigate any negative consequences for the port.
"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. Having more shortsea solutions in the logistics chain will not only mean greater reliability, but it will also diminish our dependence on trucks for 'last mile' transport, as well as reducing costs and CO2 emissions," said Justin Atkin, Port of Antwerp representative in the UK and Ireland.
The customs authorities, it said, are also getting ready.
"We have already hired an additional 386 full-time employees in order to deal with Brexit, With 930,000 more import declarations and 4.5 million more export declarations, the challenge facing us is enormous," Kristian Vanderwaeren, director general of Belgian Customs and Excise, said.