In 2016 the North East voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, running the risk of severing ties with our European trade partners. Here, Jerry Hopkinson, chief operating officer and vice-chairman at PD Ports, discusses how a more global outlook and the opportunity to form new trade agreements post-Brexit can boost Teesport’s already thriving export industry…
Teesport, one of the UK’s deepest water ports and the beating heart of the Tees Valley, acts as a gateway to global markets and consumers for exporters with the region and the wider North.
Owned and operated by PD Ports, one of the UK’s major port groups, Teesport is a catalyst for a thriving and sustainable export strategy for a huge range of businesses.
The North East has a tremendous sense of pride in its export activity, and rightly so. The region is the only one of its kind in the UK to consistently achieve a trade surplus, exporting billions of pounds worth more of goods each year than it receives in overseas imports.
A staggering £1bn has been invested at Teesport and on the River Tees in the last decade, through PD Ports and third parties, to ensure the region has the necessary infrastructure and capacity to handle cargo and meet growing customer demand, keeping both Britain’s import and export industries moving.
This ability to exchange trade both in and out of Teesport places the region in a strong position when UK domestic markets experience turbulent times; export capacity reduces the need to rely on domestic demand in turn building a more resilient commercial environment.
More than half of North East exports currently go to Europe, meaning many customers will be keeping a close eye on the progress of the ongoing trade negotiations as Britain exits the EU. Yet despite the potential threat to European exports, the situation could equally hold the opportunity to catapult Teesport – and its customers – onto an even broader global platform.
UK export performance as a whole has actually been stronger outside the Single Market than within the EU over the last decade and key emerging markets such as Asia are likely to come into increasing focus for exporters in the medium and long-term.
As a nation, and certainly as a region, we aren’t just going to shut up shop on producing goods and services for export. We must be proactive in seeking new trade opportunities when we leave the EU.
Teesport provides the perfect platform to launch these ventures, with both its infrastructure and skilled people perfectly placed to drive national export activity.
In support of this endeavour, Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond, has raised the concept of developing free port status in the region, essentially enabling raw materials and components to be imported, processed or manufactured and then exported as finished products exempt from taxes. Sunak’s idea has great merit to securing the UK’s first Free Trade Zone in the North East, one which would strengthen Teesport’s position as a strategic asset and provide the freedom to boost overseas trade, as well as the potential to create more jobs in the region’s manufacturing sectors. It is an opportunity that we intend to vigorously pursue.
There will inevitably be challenges ahead for Teesport as Brexit will undoubtedly change the customs processes associated with trade flows. We have to be very careful that those processes are workable. The term ‘frictionless borders’ has often been coined of late. We need to collaboratively work to achieving this – it’s in our local, regional and national interest.
We hope exporters across the UK will look to Teesport as the template to follow post-Brexit -but ports alone cannot reduce the UK’s trade deficit which hit an eight-month high in August according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
As we look to our manufacturing industries to feed exports, there is a critical importance on transport infrastructure across the North East and the country as a whole. It’s paramount that road and rail links in particular are fit for purpose to support the transit of goods around the country. Infrastructure is the backbone to a strong economy and efficient transportation links are central to this.
A significant amount of work has already been carried out to raise the agenda surrounding these issues with Transport for North, the Department for Transport and Network Rail. Critical transport infrastructure upgrades were subsequently highlighted as a key priority for business growth in the Tees Valley Combined Authority’s Strategic Economic Plan.
Looking ahead to a global outlook post-Brexit, ports are essential for a healthy export trade. Teesport is a prime example of a locality where world class infrastructure and a thriving manufacturing industry combine to create a strong local economy and the country’s only consistent net exporting region.
Brexit provides an opportunity for Teesport to operate across a wider global platform. And as a region we are open for business!