Port of Antwerp reaps rewards from Brexit

Brexit has been disastrous for EU-UK trade, but one unexpected beneficiary is the port of Antwerp which has seen its share of UK trade increase on the back of a transition away from rail shipping. The port of Antwerp recently merged with the port of Bruges to become the port of Antwerp-Bruges. It is now the largest export port in Europe, and it has enjoyed an unexpected increase in business activity in the wake of the UK's messy exit from the EU.

"We are a Brexit winner," said Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of the port of Antwerp-Bruges.  "While total trade between the United Kingdom and Europe is decreasing, our piece of the now smaller cake has become larger," he added.

As traffic jams full of hundreds of lorries stopped at UK customs have made the news, logistics firms have moved away from rail due to border-check complications.

"The forwarders prefer to move their goods in containers from Antwerp to a port in the United Kingdom than to bring them by truck to a port like Calais or even Zeebrugge," the port's CEO told EURACTIV. For trucks and rail, "you have the waiting times, the queues at the entrance of the gates and the border control, not only on the goods but also on the trucker.

And you have that in both directions," Vandermeiren explained.  "It's a nightmare." He attributed the port's competitive advantage to the different infrastructure it has in place.

While loading a ship, the load could be inspected and cleared for customs, he said, which ensured that the customers of the port of Antwerp did not suffer from uncertainties pertaining to traffic jams or customs issues.

Asked whether the port of Antwerp was a Brexit profiteer, Vandermeiren explained, "When it comes to volumes, we are a winner."  His statements were echoed by Dirk De fauw, mayor of Bruges, who told attendees of the official announcement of the two ports' merger that Bruges had seen an uptick in volumes due to Brexit. Ireland's a winner

But these Belgian ports may not be the only unexpected profiteers of Brexit. "Now that the UK is not the main gate for goods with destination UK anymore, lots of forwarders prefer to send their goods to Ireland and then ship it onwards to the UK," Vandermeiren said. "We've seen a boom towards Ireland, especially this year, but its other players, other distances," he added.

"But for Antwerp, it is still growth in market share."

[Edited by Alice Taylor]