Northern Irish port bounces back to a record trade flow post-pandemic

Wed 22 Jun 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Port Harbour Trade

Belfast Harbour handled a record volume of trade in 2021 as the port bounced back from Covid and benefited from government easements on applying elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A total of 25.6m tonnes of cargo was handled by the port in 2021, up 9% on the previous year and increasing by 5% from the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

As well as a post-pandemic recovery, the harbour’s annual report highlighted that Belfast had benefited from a diversion of traffic away from GB-to-Republic of Ireland route, reports ITV.

Although the protocol requires checks on goods entering NI from GB, because of HM Government easements those processes are less rigorous than those on GB shipments to the Republic of Ireland.

Strong trade performance

Ongoing HM Government grace periods that have delayed the full implementation of the protocol are one of the main reasons for the difference in checks between NI and Republic of Ireland ports, reports the Belfast Telegraph.

Michael Robinson, Belfast Harbour’s port director, said on-going investments in infrastructure had also contributed to the strong trading performance.

“In spite of the challenges faced since the outbreak of the pandemic, Belfast Harbour has benefitted from an increase in global trade and the resumption of domestic travel,” he said.

“In addition, following the UK’s exit from the European Union, changes in [roll on/roll off] traffic volumes on routes between Ireland and Great Britain have taken place, with all NI Ports, including Belfast, experiencing improved trade volumes whilst grace periods continue to apply.”

Certainty sought

Belfast Harbour CEO Joe O’Neill said that businesses were looking for certainty amid renewed tension between GB and the EU, following the announcement of planned legislation to suspend aspects of the protocol, according to the Independent.

“Businesses are calling out for certainty,” he said.

“And with certainly then they can make their appropriate plans and adjustments and work with that. It’s the uncertainty that is the issue, it potentially deters investment and makes it a little more challenging to manage day to day operations.”

TSS effect

As previously covered in the IOE&IT’s Daily Update, the Trader Support Service (TSS) has helped to ease the administrative burden for businesses affected by the new rules under the protocol.

The TSS is the government’s solution to keeping goods flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the IOE&IT is a member of the consortium delivering TSS).

Since 1 January 2021, the programme has handled over two million consignments with 46,500 system users.