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Brexit trade route losses ‘aren’t coming back again’: Dublin Port chief


The Liffey and Dublin Port

The Liffey and Dublin Port

The Liffey and Dublin Port

Freight traffic on British routes has dropped from two-thirds to just over half of all trade at Dublin Port with EU routes picking up some of the slack, a report has shown.

The drop in trade with Great Britain, reconfigured shipping routes and avoidance of the UK landbridge have been confirmed as permanent features of the post-Brexit landscape in the Republic of Ireland.

Commenting on its full year trading figures, Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly said: “There has been a step change reduction with Britain and a step change increase in Europe, and as long as the Irish economy continues to grow, I expect growth with continental Europe will be higher than growth with Britain.”

Trailers volumes on traditional routes to the main Welsh and English ports was down 21% last year, while the numbers on direct routes to Europe were up 51%, Dublin Port said.

Trade routes with Britain accounted for 52% of all loads at the end of 2021, down from 64% in 2020, a shift that is likely to be permanent.

“Last year, there was a market shock called Brexit,” Mr O’Reilly said. “I think what we’re seeing is that volumes have adjusted and now that’s a permanent figure.”

CSO figures this week confirm the drop in British imports but show Irish imports from Northern Ireland surged by 64% last year, while exports to the north shot up 48%.

Hauliers and Northern Irish manufacturers say goods are also entering the Irish market via Northern Irish ports, rather than Dublin, because they are subject to fewer checks under the Northern Irish protocol.

In addition, hauliers are no longer using the shorter shipping routes to Europe via the UK, despite forecasts by Revenue and the Department of Transport that these would recover.

“The landbridge is no longer anywhere near as attractive,” Mr O’Reilly said. “I would have thought that it would come back but I don’t see any particular evidence that it has.”

Some UK retailers have simply stopped doing business with Ireland and other EU countries since Brexit became a reality last year, while the reverse could happen this year as the UK phases in its own customs controls.

Irish food and drinks firms will feel the hit the hardest once checks apply from July.

Shane Brennan, the head of the UK’s Cold Chain Federation, told this newspaper recently that trading with Ireland “will be the same as trading with Australia. It’s a less effective and more expensive supply chain”.

But Dublin Port’s Eamonn O’Reilly does not believe the controls will have a “profound impact” on traders here. Although, he admitted that: “One thing the introduction by Britain of import controls won’t do is cause trade to increase.”

Dublin Port finished last year with overall volumes down just 5.2% on 2020, largely because of Brexit.
But watch out for the first quarter 2022 figures, Mr O’Reilly says.

“They are going to be stellar compared to the first quarter of last year, because it was so awful.”