Pragmatism over politics
The UK Chamber is helping UK shipping companies prepare for the eventual outcome of Brexit and argues that the country’s ability to strike new trade deals could hold many opportunities for the UK maritime sector
Matthew Wright, Policy Manager
Whatever happens with Brexit during 2019, a change is coming and of that we can be certain.
Our role and responsibility here at the UK Chamber of Shipping is to help our members understand what the change will or could be, and to help companies prepare accordingly.
To do so, we’ve been holding our Brexit Forum events every quarter to keep our members abreast of the latest developments and to allow them to feed into how we tackle Brexit-related issues.
Meanwhile, we’ve been holding stakeholder engagement meetings and engage regularly and at a high level with all relevant departments of Government.
Already, our Brexit response has shown itself to be effective and the Chamber has had a lot of input into the Government’s planning for a No-Deal Brexit.
Throughout 2018, the UK Chamber used its profile to warn government of the disruption that No Deal would cause to UK-EU supply chains and economies.
Policymakers have heeded our advice, as was demonstrated when the Government revised its stance on Customs processes for ferry operators.
At the start of 2018, it looked as though the Government was looking to make roll-on roll-off (RoRo) vessels subject to the same Customs processes and responsibilities as deep-sea container vessels, declaring the import and export of the goods being carried.
But this model – as the UK Chamber was able to highlight to policymakers – does not and cannot work as easily for RoRo vessels as it does for containerships.
Ferries usually don’t know what is being loaded on to a vessel before it sails, as many trucks may only arrive at the terminal a short time before the ship departs – sometimes as shortly as 30 minutes before – and are used to continuing their journey immediately after the ship’s arrival.
Introducing new Customs declarations for ferry operators, which have had no prior experience of such a process, would have therefore introduced a huge risk to the flow of traffic through UK ports.
It was an idea that was never going to work and the UK Chamber spent much of the first half of 2018 presenting this argument to the Government.
It was rewarding, then, for both the Chamber and its members when the Government recognised they could not place the responsibility for Customs declarations on to ferry operators.
This is just one example of how the UK Chamber has been working to minimise disruption and red tape on behalf of our members as the UK exits the European Union.
This work will continue to be top of our list of immediate priorities for the time being, but now that 2019 is upon us we also need to have a vision for the future.
We need a game plan for how we will turn the UK’s non-member status into tangible benefits for our nation’s maritime sector. Our work has already begun.
The UK Chamber believes any future trade agreement struck between the UK and other countries and trading blocs must explicitly include the UK’s maritime sector.
While respecting OECD shipping principles, future trade deals should enable the UK to export its shipping and maritime services expertise and safeguard seafarers’ access to jobs.
In other words, any UK-based seafarer, shipping lawyer, insurer, financier or other maritime service provider should be able to enjoy the same benefits and access to international markets, talent and freedom of movement as they have enjoyed previously.
There should be no fallout from Brexit that hinders their ability to export their world-class expertise and services to international clientele.
This is something we have impressed upon the Department for Transport (DfT) and Department for International Trade (DIT) and for which we will continue to lobby.
Forging new trading relationships with countries around the world presents a real opportunity for UK shipping.
Too often, we think of the UK’s shipping sector as simply being the ferries and feeder vessels that go back and forth between Britain, Ireland and the European continent.
But the UK is also home to a wealth of shipping companies that carry trade that doesn’t even come near our shores.
These companies have chosen the UK as their home but operate internationally and form a vital part of our shipping sector.
These companies are the ones that stand to gain the most from the new trade deals the UK will strike with countries around the world.
This is why we need to have a vision for post-Brexit policies on trade and shipping and match that vision with long-term commercial opportunities.
In this way, we can ensure that UK-based carriers and shipping service providers are able to benefit from these new trading relationships for years to come.
It is therefore of critical importance that the UK strikes trade deals with nations that don’t already have a strong maritime economy, so that our companies can tap into these new markets.
There is limited upside for the UK shipping industry in forging trade deals with Dubai and Singapore, for instance, because both regions already have strong maritime sectors.
Nigeria, however, represents the sort of country where a trade deal including a comprehensive maritime chapter could be beneficial.
The country has a thriving domestic shipping sector, but its international ambitions have never quite reached fruition.
There is significant scope for UK companies to prosper in the Nigerian market and help the country modernise its industry and make operations more efficient.
Nigeria also happens to be the world’s fourth largest exporter of LNG and one of the world’s three most viable exporters of ‘sweet’ low-sulphur crude oil. Demand for both these commodities is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
An effective trade deal would reconnect UK with an important trading partner and put UK-based carriers in an advantageous position to be able to handle these growing cargo volumes, or else provide ancillary services to exporters and the Nigerian maritime industry.
This is the UK Chamber’s vision for our post-Brexit future. Change is coming but there will be opportunities for those who have the vision to see them. We’re working with our members to do just that.