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British experts remain cautious despite freight volume increase

The United Kingdom (UK) Government has released Transport’s Department port freight statistics for the second quarter of the year, indicating positive signs despite the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the post-Brexit​ processes with UK-EU traffic.

However, the UK Government's and British Ports Association's (BPA) experts point out that the results are not representing the reality given the fact that 2020 was not a period of smooth operations.

In particular, during the April-June season, the UK ports have handled more than 110 million tonnes, which translates to a total freight tonnage increase of 13% in comparison to 2020 Q2.

During the same period imports rose by 22%, while exports fell by 2%, which was the only decrease in volumes seen in the second quarter of the current year.

Furthermore, unitised traffic of containers and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) trailers in Q2 increased by 38% compared to the same period of the previous year, reaching 4.5 million units, with imports marking a record increase of 42%, and exports growing by 33%.

"The rise from Q1 to Q2 has been to a far greater extent than 2019 - indicating a positive trend of economic recovery due to the increase of goods arriving in the United Kingdom," noted British Ports Association (BPA).

However, experts believe that the increase of 2021 figures over 2020 results are not so indicative, as the last year was significantly affected by the pandemic.

"This by no means indicates a return to 'normal' levels, as these figures formed in comparison on Q2 2020, when the grip of the pandemic was at its worst; hence why these figures appear to be such a stark increase," stated a British Ports Association (BPA) representative.

In addition, the UK Government explained that coronavirus has had a wide impact on UK society and economic activity since March 2020, with travel restrictions impacting unitised traffic, commenting that "we are now comparing to the quarter most affected by the UK lockdown (April to June 2020), so increases can be interpreted as a return to more normal levels."

Policy Manager and Economic Analyst at the BPA, Phoebe Warneford-Thomson also pointed out that although there are positives to be drawn from the publication of the Department for Transport’s Q2 port freight statistics with a proportionally strong rise in tonnages from Q1 to Q2 compared to 2019 data, these stark rises compared to Q2 2020 serve as "false friends for volumes returning to pre-pandemic levels."

"With regards to the picture of UK and global trading volumes, the enduring theme of the last 18 months has been volatility and today’s release is no exception, and this volatility has placed immense pressure on port operators due to ever-changing volume levels, putting further pressure on efficiencies, which has been exacerbated by haulier shortages," he affirmed.

"The UK’s diverse range of ports have demonstrated their resilience during the pandemic and we expect this challenging overall picture for ports to continue at least into Q2 next year," concluded Warneford-Thomson.

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