Maritime industry consultant Justin Atkin has been appointed as Port of Antwerp’s representative in the UK and Ireland.
The Belgian operation – Europe’s second largest port and a hub destination for global cargo – has strong links to the Humber, and the UK particularly.
Britain is the third largest trading partner with the port, and the initiative is described as a move “to be fully prepared for Brexit,” with bosses hoping trading conditions remain as close as possible to what they are now.
Mr Atkin owns Barton-based Ragged Edge Consulting Ltd, having acquired the business two years ago. Prior to that he was a key figure in the commercial team with Associated British Ports.
Of the appointment, which will see him dedicate several days a month to the role, he said: “Brexit is a big challenge for the business world, not in the least for ports serving the UK.
“Fortunately, however, the links and connections with the Port of Antwerp are very strong. I will be able to draw on my many years of experience to further develop and expand these links.”
An annual freight volume of 15 million tonnes passes across the North Sea, putting Britain just behind the USA and Russia.
Overall, it handles well over 200 million tonnes annually and is on track for a sixth successive record year.
Jacques Vandermeiren, chief executive of Antwerp Port Authority said: “The actual impact of Brexit is still uncertain. Last year there was a decrease of nearly 8 per cent in trade with the UK, probably due to this uncertainty. But with Brexit rapidly approaching we want to concentrate on maintaining and even expanding our market position within the UK.
“Of course we are doing everything possible to be fully prepared for Brexit. But the most desirable situation for us post-Brexit would be that trading conditions remain as close as possible to what they are now.
“Any obstacle to the free movement of goods, whether tariff or non-tariff, would in our opinion be prejudicial to trade relations between our port and the British market.”
Antwerp is seen as ideally situated as an investment location close to the European centres of decision-making, and as the gateway to Europe from where the continent can be served quickly and efficiently, given that 50 per cent of UK production is bound for continental Europe.
“The UK was always a self-evident market for us, Wim Dillen, regional development manager for Antwerp Port Authority said. “Brexit brings new challenges for us, and our new representative will act as our eyes and ears, keeping us in touch with the economic situation and the impact of Brexit on Antwerp’s business.
“We also count on Justin to place Antwerp even more strongly on the map for the UK and Ireland, and to attract new sources of cargo and investment.”
He will play a central role in other planned activity, with a Brexit taskforce set up with representatives of the port community, Customs & Excise and the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain.
A roadshow is being planned early next year to include a ‘Port Day’ in Birmingham and a stakeholders’ meeting in London.