The British Ports Association (BPA) has said that it is concerned at the implications of the comments made by UK prime minister Boris Johnson in Greenwich on February 3rd. The BPA has asked the UK Government to clarify what it saw as “mixed messages” on trade.
Johnson said that the UK wanted “a comprehensive free trade agreement (with the EU) similar to Canada’s.”
BPA chief executive Richard Ballantyne noted that Canada’s trading relationship with the EU was a free-trade agreement and included some measure of regulatory alignment. However, he observed that the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that the UK was not seeking alignment of any kind. Ballantyne said that “the clock is ticking, and the freight sector needs to understand exactly what border requirements there will be from January 2021. The goalposts have been moved several times over the last three and a half years and this uncertainty must now end.”
Ballantyne warned that it was now “almost inevitable” that the promise of continued frictionless trade would not be met.
While UK ports had been preparing for disruption for three and a half years and were “as ready as they can be”, Ballantyne said that “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”.
He said that both ports and traders needed to know what the Government was aiming for when it came to equivalence, regulatory alignment and agreeing a level playing field, “which are not the same thing”.
The BPA said that, even in the worst-case scenario, most ports would not experience major congestion, but that disruption at certain ports might mean increased costs for traders, manufacturers and, ultimately, potentially consumers.