The Department for Transport (DfT) has today published its Annual UK Port Freight statistics for 2017 which show that overall total freight tonnages handled by UK ports were stable, totalling 482mt. The figures which aggregate all UK major and minor port tonnages for the year confirm that there was a continued albeit modest growth in Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro) traffic (commercial vehicles and trailers) which makes up a sizeable proportion of our trade with European countries. The British Ports Association (BPA) Chief Executive, Richard Ballantyne, suggested this underlines the importance of agreeing a post Brexit deal with the EU that preserves the many advantages of Customs Union and Single Market membership. The BPA has regularly voiced concerns and called for a deal which avoids the need for border interventions, congestion and delays at Ro-Ro ports, whilst also enabling UK ports to take advantage of new global trade deals, such as is proposed in the UK Government’s Facilitated Customs Agreement. The BPA is also pressing for more Government political support for ports under a ‘Port Enterprise and Development Zones’ concept which we propose will ease business and planning rules to help stimulate growth and economic activity in and around port areas.
Commenting on the figures Mr Ballantyne, said:
“The figures demonstrate the significant role ports play in handling 95% of the UK’s international trade in goods and we are keen to work with Government to grow national and regional economies to drive up these numbers, where possible, in the coming years. Growing port clusters can have real benefits locally in terms of jobs and growth. Giving ports special enterprise and development status would really help drive the sector forward, at very little cost to the taxpayer.
The DfT’s figures highlight the significance of ‘Roll-on Roll-off’ HGV vehicle trade with Europe and means that a good deal, such as that proposed in the UK Government’s Facilitated Customs Arrangement, is highly preferable not only for the ports handling that type of traffic but also for the UK and EU economies.”
The DfT’s annual figures are also a barometer of the UK economy and a good indicator of how the country is performing. Unitised traffic handled at UK major ports grew marginally in 2017 to 24.1 million units in 2017, which is the fifth consecutive year of growth. Unitised traffic has risen 16% since 2012, although in terms of weight the overall unitised tonnages were very slightly down. Container traffic was slightly down, with a 1% decline on imports and a 4% reduction of outward traffic. The numbers show that both liquid bulk and dry bulk passing through UK ports fell by 1% in 2017 however other general cargo rose by 8% to 18.8 million tonnes in 2017.
The figures also show that approximately two-thirds of UK port traffic was in an inwards direction. A total of 300.9 million tonnes entered UK major ports in 2017, compared to 180.9 million tonnes departing although there was continued growth in the UK exports last year.