British Ports Association Concerned About Brexit Comments

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Published Feb 3, 2020 7:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

The British Ports Association has voiced concern about the February 3 comments made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Greenwich. The British Ports Association is now calling on the Government to clarify the mixed messages sent on trade.

Speaking about a future trading relationship with the E.U., Johnson said: “We want a comprehensive free trade agreement similar to Canada’s."

Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association, said in response that Canada’s trading relationship with the E.U. is a free-trade agreement and includes some measure of [regulatory] alignment, although the Prime Minister seemed to suggest today that the UK is not seeking “alignment of any kind.”

“The clock is ticking, and the freight sector needs to understand exactly what border requirements there will be from January 2021," said Ballantye. "The goalposts have been moved several times over the last three and a half years and this uncertainty must now end.

“It is now almost inevitable that the promise of continued frictionless trade will not be met. U.K. ports have been preparing for disruption for three and a half years and are as ready as they can be. However, we remain concerned at the readiness of the wider freight industry and the capacity of the multitude of Government agencies that operate at the border.

“Ports and traders need to know what the Government is aiming for when it comes to equivalence, regulatory alignment and agreeing a level playing field – which are not the same thing. U.K. port gateways handle 95 percent of our international trade, and about half of this is with the E.U., much of which is via roll-on roll-off ports.”

The Association says most ports will not see major congestion even in the worst scenarios, but disruption at certain ports may mean increased costs for traders, manufacturers and ultimately potentially consumers. 

The U.K. has now officially notified the other 163 World Trade Organization (WTO) members of its status in the organization given its withdrawal from the E.U. on February 1.

Except from Johnson's speech:

We have the opportunity, we have the newly recaptured powers, we know where we want to go, and that is out into the world.

And today in Geneva as our ambassador Julian Braithwaite moves seats in the WTO and takes back control of our tariff schedules, an event in itself that deserves itself to be immortalised in oil - this country is leaving its chrysalis.

We are re-emerging after decades of hibernation as a campaigner for global free trade.

And frankly it is not a moment too soon because the argument for this fundamental liberty is now not being made.

We in the global community are in danger of forgetting the key insight of those great Scottish thinkers, the invisible hand of Adam Smith, and of course David Ricardo’s more subtle but indispensable principle of comparative advantage, which teaches that if countries learn to specialise and exchange then overall wealth will increase and productivity will increase, leading Cobden to conclude that free trade is God’s diplomacy – the only certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace since the more freely goods cross borders the less likely it is that troops will ever cross borders.

And since these notions were born here in this country, it has been free trade that has done more than any other single economic idea to raise billions out of poverty and incredibly fast.

In 1990 there were 37 percent of the world’s population in absolute poverty - that is now down to less than 10 per cent.

And yet my friends, I am here to warn you today that this beneficial magic is fading.

Free trade is being choked and that is no fault of the people, that’s no fault of individual consumers, I am afraid it is the politicians who are failing to lead.

The mercantilists are everywhere, the protectionists are gaining ground.

From Brussels to China to Washington tariffs are being waved around like cudgels even in debates on foreign policy where frankly they have no place - and there is an ever growing proliferation of non-tariff barriers and the resulting tensions are letting the air out of the tyres of the world economy.

World trading volumes are lagging behind global growth.

Trade used to grow at roughly double global GDP – from 1987 to 2007.

Now it barely keeps pace and global growth is itself anaemic and the decline in global poverty is beginning to slow.

And in that context, we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.

We are ready for the great multi-dimensional game of chess in which we engage in more than one negotiation at once and we are limbering up to use nerves and muscles and instincts that this country has not had to use for half a century.

Secretary of State Liz Truss tells me she has the teams in place.

She has the lawyers, top dollar I’ve no doubt, the economists, trade policy experts and if we don’t have enough, or if they don’t perform, believe me we will hire some more.

We will reach out to the rest of the Commonwealth,which now has some of the fastest growing economies in the world.

It was fantastic at the recent Africa summit to see how many wanted to turn that great family of nations into a free trade zone, even if we have to begin with clumps and groups, and we will take these ideas forward at Kigali in June.

We will engage with Japan and the other Trans-Pacific agreement countries, with old friends and partners - Australia, New Zealand, Canada - on whom we deliberately turned our backs in the early 1970s.

We will get going with our friends in America and I share the optimism of Donald Trump and I say to all the naïve and juvenile anti-Americans in this country if there are any - there seem to be some - I say grow up - and get a grip.

The U.S. already buys one fifth of everything we export.


And it is vital to say this now clearly because we have so often been told that we must choose between full access to the E.U. market, along with accepting its rules and courts on the Norway model, or a free trade agreement, which opens up markets and avoids the full panoply of E.U. regulation, like the Canada deal.

Well folks I hope you’ve got the message by now.

We have made our choice: we want a comprehensive free trade agreement, similar to Canada’s.

But in the very unlikely event that we do not succeed, then our trade will have to be based on our existing Withdrawal Agreement with the E.U.

The choice is emphatically not “deal or no-deal.”

We have a deal – we’ve done it and yes it did turn out as I prophesized to be oven ready.

The question is whether we agree a trading relationship with the E.U. comparable to Canada’s – or more like Australia’s.

And I have no doubt that in either case the U.K. will prosper.