Anglesey Freeport could have key role in restoring 'GB landbridge', says trade experts

Thu 23 Mar 2023
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Map of UK and Ireland

The announcement of two new freeports in Wales is good news for businesses moving goods over the Irish Sea, trade and customs experts have said.

The two freeports, one in Anglesey and one in Port Talbot and Milford Haven, are the first to be confirmed in Wales and the 11th and 12th in the UK as a whole.

Kevin Shakespeare, the director of strategic projects and international development at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), was among a number of experts to welcome the announcement, saying the freeports had the potential to restore the so-called ‘GB landbridge’.

The landbridge is the name given to the movement of goods from Ireland to the EU via Great Britain, as well as from the EU via Britain to Ireland.

Shakespeare said:

“The new freeports are great news for businesses moving goods between the UK and EU, as well as between GB and NI, over the Irish Sea.

“We’ve seen a 20% drop in transit movements using the GB landbridge, but we hope this freeport can help revitalise this route, which is more efficient for businesses and better for the environment.”

Why the landbridge matters

Businesses have been required to comply with new customs rules to move goods between the UK and the EU following Brexit, and also between Britain and Northern Ireland under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Under new customs rules, Irish businesses still using the GB landbridge can apply for the transit procedure, which allows for the temporary suspension of duties, taxes and trade policy measures that apply at import. This procedure facilitates customs clearance at the point of destination, as opposed to the point of entry, in a different customs territory.

However, speaking on a recent IOE&IT webinar, Shanker Singham, the CEO of trade law and economic policy consultancy Competere, said the landbridge was a “very important route for Irish traders and suppliers” which needed to be easier for businesses to use.

Singham also cited research conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) that shows that carbon emissions for Irish goods moving through Britain was 21% lower than for those moving from Ireland to the EU direct.

“The landbridge is cheaper for traders, with economic benefits for each of the UK, Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU,” he added.

‘Work begins’

A statement from the consortium which bid for the Anglesey Freeport – including Stena Line, Isle of Anglesey County Council and the IOE&IT – said the freeport will “reduce the need for hauliers to transit goods around the southern tip of the UK” and will “revitalise the GB landbridge”.

Stena Line’s executive director Ian Hampton said the “work now begins” to do this by “capitalising on the unique tax and customs arrangements gained through freeport status”.

Trade corridor

Hampton also appeared on the same IOE&IT webinar as Singham last month and said that a freeport would be a “major lever for opening up a trade corridor” between GB and Ireland.

He said it was “within the bequeaths of government” to “maximise flexibility” on trade between the UK and EU within the terms of the Union Customs Code and Common Transit Convention.

Making trade easier

Shakespeare said that freeports could revitalise the GB landbridge by making it easier for businesses to apply for facilitations such as transit.

He added that he was looking forward to seeing how the freeports will maximise the opportunities of the government’s ongoing work digitalising trade procedures.

“The customs facilitations that freeports provide, alongside the update to the transit IT system, that is due in the autumn, should go a long way to revitalising the GB landbridge.

“It’s clear that the UK government is exploring all levers to make trade simpler for businesses, as shown by the package of customs measures announced by the Chancellor in last week’s Spring Budget.

“Freeports like Anglesey will also have a key role to play in this, alongside ongoing work to digitalise trade through the Single Trade Window, Ecosystem of Trust and Target Operating Model initiatives.”