Friday, January 11, 2019

Annual Dunkirk Conference Shows Growth in Freight Overall During 2018  

Port Vows it Will not Allow Brexit to Impact Trade Flows

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Shipping News Feature FRANCE – UK – WORLDWIDE – This week the Port of Dunkirk held its annual Conference which gives an opportunity to gauge not only how the port has performed during the past twelve months, but to hear exactly what is planned for future development. This year however gave anyone from the UK an insight into how their continental cousins are viewing the topic of the moment, namely Brexit, something which has the potential to have a major influence on Northern France in particular.

For some months the spectre of a ‘no-deal’ scenario has haunted discussions, but the French have now shown unanimity in what they see as the process in that situation. Despite their natural competitiveness, the Northern French ferry ports, particularly Dunkirk and Calais have obviously been mutually dissecting each scenario that may arise, and are expressing a single view of what may happen.

Firstly these ports are vociferous in their support for continuing free trade. The thought of a hard border is an anathema to the French, who have a far bigger short sea trade with the UK trade, as exports rather than imports, as compared to the British. In its latest prospectus the Port of Dunkirk gives an undertaking to ‘carry out the necessary work to implement Brexit so that the latter has no impact on the flows of goods at the level of the port’.

If however there will, as it seems be a requirement for Customs declarations, both ports say they are fully prepared. In an interview with the BBC this week the President of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, declared that there will be no need for any more vehicle checks, post-Brexit, than are already being carried out, apart from those for food, livestock and migrants, a sentiment reiterated by Stephane Raison, President of the Executive Committee at the Port of Dunkirk.

The attitude of the French is certainly more laid back then the hyper tense atmosphere currently in the UK with officials such as these gentlemen convinced that all will be well. The fact is however that there will probably be a necessity for any truck to be accompanied by suitable relevant documents and failure to present these at arrival at a port in the UK or France will lead to the vehicle to be turned away.

This then is the situation which would lead to queues of lorries awaiting paperwork, and is exactly what is bothering those such as Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive Richard Burnett, who said this week:

“At our meeting in Calais Monsieur Puissesseau made it abundantly clear that when a vehicle arrives at Dover, whether destined for Calais, Dunkirk or Coquelles, if the driver is without their pre-customs declarations or without a permit (if it’s a British driver) or a transit document (if delivering to a different country), they will be rejected. To complete that initial documentation check could take up to four or five minutes, still a significant delay. If the declaration is not fully completed, the shipping lines will reject the vehicle, it will have to turn away or park up to get the declaration completed.

“With 11 weeks to go until we leave the EU, we have nowhere near enough clearing agents with sufficient knowledge to give businesses the help and advice they need. British businesses won’t have time to put the processes in place themselves, they simply don’t have the resources. We also need to be aware that the customs process has still not been agreed from a French perspective. They may well be checking trucks, despite Chris Grayling’s belief that this will not be the case.

”The French customs may well check for clearance documentation at Calais, Dunkirk or Coquelles. There may even be checks at Calais to check the export declarations. This has not been clarified but in the event of these checks, there will inevitably be long queues around the Port. In addition, the number of migrants we have seen clearly shows that the issue has definitely not gone away. Delays at the Port will simply act as an even greater magnet to those intent on reaching UK shores by whatever means possible, usually on the back of a truck.”

At the Dunkirk Conference Msieu Raison emphasised that he, and other French port authorities, had been negotiating with the French Customs to ensure a smooth transition and he praised the attitude of both the Chamber of Commerce and local authorities for their assistance in these matters. He compared this to the UK government’s approach, saying it was ‘fuzzy on these matters’. He also made it clear that documentary checks will be undertaken and continued:

”Initially we were worried as to what the French Customs attitude would be, but they understand fluidity, and now we are not concerned, they are working with us. The issue is maintaining fluidity in both directions. We have the parking space [if there is congestion] but we want that fluidity. At my last meeting with the UK their representative said trucks not compliant will be turned back.

”Trucks not complying will be turned away, but Phytosanitary checks can be done in France. One third of returning trucks are empty so they will require no checks. If we look at the border between Belarus and Poland, that is a hard border, yet transits go smoothly.”

So much for the future. As to 2018 the Port of Dunkirk had winners and fewer losers in a year which saw rail playing an ever important role in conveying goods to and from the European hinterlands. Overall 13 million tonnes passed through in 2018, and although this was principally bulk freight, the intermodal sector is set to grow with the recent partnership with Greenmodal Transport which sees maritime containers transiting to and from the major hubs in southern France (Bordeaux, Bayonne, Toulouse, Perpignan, Miramas/Marseiille, Lyon and Avignon) and Italy (Turin, Novara and Milan).

This service will increase to three trains per week from February and the use of two new hubs in Dourges, near Lens and Valenton, 200 kilometres further south and adjacent to Paris, will enable this comprehensive coverage. Staying with containerised freight, the port’s long association with CMA CGM continues and Msieu Raison was keen to emphasise that the latest Chinese investment in the box carrier’s future did not mean that nation was taking over the company. The completion in 2019 of the Flanders Quay extension, at a cost of €10 million, will see the 500 metre extension allow even more, bigger vessels alongside in the 17.5 metre deep dock. Overall container traffic rose 13% to 422,000 TEU.

Waterway traffic was up having risen from 2013 to 51.6 million tonnes, a jump of over 8 million tonnes in the lustrum since 2013 and services making good use of the northern French canal network and beyond. Coal traffic has of course been severely curtailed of late but this has been offset by the continued investment in, and growth of, the liquid gas sector which pushed liquid bulk traffic for the year up 8% to 5.48 million tonnes.

The LNG Terminal project, which had to be stopped for a time to allow bigger pumps and equipment to be installed, has continued and now is offering the ability to both import and export the gas. This, it was claimed, has put Dunkirk in the position of second in terms of bunkering the fuel in Europe with onshore bunkering scheduled to commence in Q2 2019 and offshore in Q4, and has led to a new contract with Brittany Ferries which will see LNG transported to Cherbourg to provide fuel for the 42,400 gross tonne ferry Honfleur. LNG activities, 2018 being only the second year of operations, stood at 1.2 million tonnes, up 56% despite that plant shutdown.

Solid bulk overall rose 5% to 25.91 million tonnes and for 2018 the association with Arcelor Mittal moving goods to Bremen meant overall ore traffic rose 3% to a record 15 million tonnes, coal was up 7.4% after the previous slump to 6.4 million tonnes, grain up 11%, as was ‘small solid’ bulk (mostly slag and cement), to 1.44 and 3.1 million tonnes respectively.

Whilst Calais RoRo annual cross channel traffic stayed level, Dunkirk saw a 4% dip in the number of freight trucks to 596,000 units, and hydrocarbons also shrunk by 3% and general cargo remained level. Environmental issues are a big ticket item for all modern ports these days and Dunkirk is no exception with 2019 seeing electricity soon to be available to ships on berth, and wind farm technology looming large. The port has tendered for the next offshore wind farm contract, a facility which will apparently produce electricity equivalent to half that of a normal nuclear reactor.

This, and a host of other projects are on the cards for the coming years as Dunkirk reinforces its claimed position as the third largest port in France in terms of global traffic.

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