Brexit, U.S. protectionism challenge Belgium’s ports

Brexit and U.S. protectionism represent significant challenges for the future of Belgium’s ports, the governor of the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Jan Smets, said on Wednesday. Smets, who was in Bruges for the presentation of a report on the economic interests of Belgian ports, said Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, Brexit, could have a considerable influence on Zeebruges. “Links with Great Britain represent 45% of the traffic at Zeebruges, amounting to 17.2 million tonnes of goods handled out of a total of 37.1 million tonnes,” he said.

“In comparison, the ratio is 13.8 million tonnes out of a total of 223.6 million tonnes in Antwerp. It is practically established that the competitive position of Zeebruges in the region will deteriorate in favour Le Havre or Hamburg,” Smets noted.

He hopes to see a proper withdrawal agreement concluded with the United Kingdom, including a 21-month transition starting in March 2019. “But we also need to prepare ourselves for failure,” he cautioned.

Another challenge for port activity in Belgium is the protectionism being applied by U.S. President Donald Trump. Taxes imposed on metals and under consideration for vehicle imports, with a view to correcting the U.S. trade deficit are a problem for Antwerp. U.S. trade accounts for 23.1 million of the 223.6 million tonnes of goods handled there.

However, there is room for optimism, the BNB Governor said. “There is a temporary cooldown, but there is no question of slower growth in the European Union or Belgium,” he noted. “We must not be blind to risks, but I see a great deal of dynamism, flexibility and creativity in our ports. Belgian ports will certainly remain an important source of prosperity.”

The Brussels Times

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