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Dutch paint black Brexit outlook for ferry freight

Brexit will seriously disrupt UK-Continent unaccompained ferry freight traffic, as with less than 200 days to go, the vast majority of shippers have not prepared themselves and new customs documentation, the Dutch authorities have warned. “There will be huge delays and congestion, no doubt,” said the Port of Rotterdam’s External Affairs Manager Mark Dijk

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The point about this Dutch intervention is that up to now the Brexit focus has been on accompanied freight using the Dover Straits (ferry and fixed link), but Dutch ports-UK freight is mostly unaccompanied on the longer North Sea crossings and, therefore, theoretically has a buffer.


“Only 18 per cent of the 35,000 or so Dutch shippers doing international business with the UK only, and consequently having no experience with customs declarations, are preparing for Brexit, " stated said Mark Dijk at a press conference organised by the port authority (HbR) jointly with Dutch customs, the national food and consumer safety authority (NVWA) and Stena Line. "We assume that this percentage might be even lower among shippers located further inland on the Continent whose international business involves the internal EU free market only."


Liesbeth Kooijman, NVWA’s Head of Import Inspection, told reporters: "There is not enough urgency with companies. If they won’t prepare, we’ll be in big trouble.” She anticipates the delay to be “at least one day" for the animal and vegetal products falling under NVWA’s competence.


At the moment, fresh produce is often be on the UK supermarket shelves on the very night of the day they were shipped from Holland, said Annika Holt, Stena Line’s Trade Director, North Sea.


The delays brought about by customs and phytosanitary inspections involved with third country exports and imports are de facto incompatible with high speed, just in time nature of shortsea ferry traffic moving on a door-to-door basis. On top of that trailer operators, road hauliers and ferry terminals alike have no experience with non-internal market traffic, meaning goods liable to customs procedures and there is insufficient space in the terminals for the trailers’ longer dwell time. Dijk said that additional parking space is being sought from the city of Rotterdam and Schiedam/Vlaardingen, where DFDS has its terminal. As most terminals are built-in, this won’t be easy. At the moment the NVWA has no facilities for import and export certification at Rotterdam’s six roro terminals either. In the current free internal market NVWA does not check any goods to or from the UK.

Stena Line's terminal in the Hook of Holland
Stena Line's terminal in the Hook of Holland

“Trailers currently sometimes arrive 15 minutes before departure, and Daily Fresh are consolidating trailers next door to us just one hour before sailing,” said Holt. “An export trailer check-in currently takes between 90 seconds for general cargo and five minutes for hazardous goods. 75 per cent of our freight is just-in-time. Drivers’ immigration checks, the UK being a non-Schengen state, currently are the only official act. There is no space to slow down the process.


"New arrangements will not be ready by March 2019, trade can’t adjust at such short notice, and IT-systems take three years to implement. Physical food and safety inspections will have to be off-site. There will be huge delays and congestion, no doubt. Everybody is hoping for a transition period.”


NVWA plans to discuss with the ferry terminals the option of keeping outbound trailers at the shippers’ premises longer, in order to restrict congestion. “We’re preparing for the worst: a hard Brexit, so a WTO scenario. To date, we have no experience with ferry terminals, only with container terminals,” said Kooijman.

About 600,000 trailers are ferried from all Dutch ports together to the UK annually, a sizable portion of this involving transit from other Continental countries.


“Whereas just a contract and an invoice are sufficient to import or export goods between the UK and the other EU states, a consignment will require a minimum of seven additional documents from March 30th 2019, or even nine for foodstuffs,” said Roel van ‘t Veld, the Dutch customs’ national Brexit co-ordinater. Noting that Dutch customs are already fully prepared, he reiterated Dijk’s remark that Brexit preparations by government are useless, unless companies do the same. “We’re looking for facilitation to the maximum, as we are already fully IT-based ourselves. Our tools are in place and, mind you, dealing with third countries is normal for us. When everybody is as prepared, the problem could be managable.”


Dutch customs anticipates that Brexit will lead to an increase of around 5M declarations and 6.6M notifications. Also they will have to clear about 10,500 additional ships, notably all ships to and from the UK (of all types, so including container, general cargo and bulk) per year. To absorb this "tsunami," 928 extra full-timw customs officers are being sought in the event of a hard no deal Brexit, with the WTO regime applying to UK-EU trade, or 750 if a bilateral and more friendly Free Trade Area agreement is struck. NVWA is seeking aaround 140 new staff, including 100 veterinarians.


An annual 54 Mt of UK origin/destination cargo is shipped via the Dutch ports together. Of this 40 Mt goes via Rotterdam, or around 8.5% of the port’s total throughput. It was stressed that in any event - a hard WTO exit or an FTA –aggregate UK freight volume is bound to decrease. And it was added, that the fastest FTA-ever struck between the EU and a third country, Japan, took six years.

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