Belfast port handles record trade as Brexit shifts traffic away from Dublin

The port of Belfast handled a record volume of trade last year, with Brexit controls cited as a factor.

The Port of Belfast said the port handled 25.6 million tonnes in 2021, a 9 per cent increase from the previous year.

Trade volume was also up 5 percent from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

While the recovery from the pandemic was one of the drivers of increased trade in 2021, the port’s annual report also highlighted that Belfast had benefited from a diversion of traffic from routes from Britain to the Republic.

While the Northern Ireland Protocol to Brexit requires checks on goods entering the North from Britain, the processes are not as rigorous as those that apply to shipments from Britain to Ireland.

Ongoing grace periods that have delayed full implementation of the protocol are one of the main reasons for the difference in controls between Northern Ireland and Republic ports.

Northern Irish exporters can also sell without restriction to the rest of the UK market if they ship from Northern ports.

The port’s annual report said: “Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, there have been changes in RoRo (roll on/roll off) traffic volumes on routes between Ireland and Great Britain, and all ports of NI, including Belfast, saw an improvement in trade. volumes while grace periods continue to apply.”

Belfast Port Chief Executive Joe O’Neill said there was evidence some trade was beginning to migrate back to Dublin routes.

He said trade flow through Belfast port was “smooth” until 2021.

With the fate of the protocol still to be resolved, including the status of grace periods, O’Neill said companies are looking for certainty.

“Companies are asking for certainty,” he said.

“And for sure then they can make their appropriate plans and adjustments and work with that – the problem is uncertainty, it potentially deters investment and makes it a bit more challenging to manage day-to-day operations.”

O’Neill said trade flow remained strong in the first half of 2022, but said there was some evidence that rising inflationary pressures were starting to result in a “softening” of activity, particularly with the movement of goods. as animal feed. and fertilizers.

The report shows that the Port of Belfast has returned to more normal trading conditions after the pandemic, with a record annual increase in turnover and profits.

In 2021, turnover was up 17% to £73.3m from the previous year, while operating profit was up 14% to £33.9m.

Dr. Theresa Donaldson, Chairman of Belfast Harbour, said: “2021 was a record year for Belfast Harbour, with strong commercial performance across our diverse portfolio, with port trade and broader real estate activity outperforming the previous year.

“Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, trade has continued to flow and these results demonstrate the continued resilience of the Port of Belfast and its customers and tenants as together we adapt and respond to external challenges and operational changes.

“This strong performance provides a firm economic foundation and a positive outlook for 2022, but we remain cognizant of the ongoing risks posed by the pandemic and the global energy and supply chain challenges and related inflationary environment.”

Add Comment