We're now in the homestretch of Brexit, and much is still uncertain. What's going on in Parliament at the moment is common knowledge - just type 'Brexit' into Google and you'll find an array of up-to-date news stories on this messy divorce. What isn't as well-known is the impact that a no-deal Brexit could have on the dry bulk shipping market.
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Ports are bracing themselves for change as the race to Brexit ends. For the Port of Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, a no-deal agreement could create significant problems for trading. It currently handles approximately 40 million tpy of goods to and from the UK, but this could all be set to change.
The port's Chief Executive Allard Castelein stated:"The first days after Brexit will for sure bring unrest and insecurity. We have done everything to be as well-prepared as possible, but there will always be problems."
For instance, one of the port's main concerns is with heavy traffic around the area. In theory, European truck drivers that are scheduled to arrive at the Rotterdam port with goods destined for the UK could arrive without the valid permits. As such, they would not be permitted onsite, causing slowdowns or even stoppages on the roads surrounding the port.
To prepare for this scenario, the Port of Rotterdam is attempting to convert a mass volume of nearby agricultural land into a parking area, which will be able to hold around 200 trucks. Here, drivers will be able to arrange permits, before continuing on their journey within 24 hours.
And it's not just road traffic that could pose problems. Austria's Minister for Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl explained: "Any ship that leaves a UK port on [15 February] has to know what kind of customs papers to take along, because when it arrives at its port of destination, it could be that the UK is out of the EU or still inside the EU. The uncertainty is not going to happen in the future, it's already with us, with any entrepreneur or exporter."
As I write, dozens of dry cargo ships are traversing the ocean, many destined to enter Asian ports. One such example is the Thalassa Mana vessel. En route to Japan after departing from Felixstowe (UK), it is set to arrive one day after Britain's departure from the EU. As it is due to arrive after the Brexit deadline, the trading conditions that the vessel will face are unclear. It's also not known whether it will be permitted to unload its cargo. In a nutshell, it seems that, in the case of a no-deal, ships will either be stranded at sea or stuck in customs for a prolonged period of time.
But while many remain panicked over the Brexit unknown, some companies are simply getting on with it. Associated British Ports (ABP) revealed an additional investment to boost facilities at its Port of Hull, a further commitment from the company to keep the UK trading with Europe and the rest of the world after Britain's exit.
Similarly, UK-based ship insurer Standard Club estimates that approximately 40% of its business will soon be written through its new Dublin unit. This was established to enable the company to continue servicing its customers in the European Economic Area in the wake of Brexit.
So it seems that preparations across the board are well underway. But when all is said and done, I think many will be taking a leaf out of the Port of Rotterdam Authority's books:"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."