The Netherlands: Will the Port of Europe endure a hard Brexit?

By Antonia Schräder

Brexit is on its way, and a no deal scenario is becoming more realistic. The Netherlands is one of the countries that will be most affected – the reason being its strong bilateral relations with the UK as the UK is the third largest destination for Dutch goods [1]. Illustratively, approximately 200,000 jobs in the Netherlands are bound to trade with the UK.

The Netherlands also plays a bigger role in Brexit than most European countries as it is home to Europe’s largest port, the Port of Rotterdam. Officials of the port complain that they need more clarity in order to prepare in the best possible way for any Brexit outcome. Each year 40 million tons of goods arrive from the UK at the Port of Rotterdam [2]. In close cooperation with the Brexit Taskforce of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of The Netherlands, the port is preparing for a no deal outcome, which in the worst case would mean a WTO scenario. A WTO scenario implies control on every single item coming from the UK and entering the EU [3]. In this case, the port will firstly have to limit the number of transit issues to an absolute minimum. And secondly, what Mark Dijk (Manager of External Affairs of the Port of Rotterdam) presents, is a new community system for the port, called PORTBASE. This system has developed a program to automate all custom formalities.

Dijk explains that they expect some businesses to be insufficiently prepared and organized in the first six to eight weeks. In that case, they will be refused at the gate of the ferry terminal until they have their paperwork properly arranged. After this cumbersome phase, Dijk expects all businesses to have registered with the Dutch port community system Portbase, connecting all parties in the logistics chains of Dutch ports [4]. This would hopefully allow for continued smooth trading with the UK in the future. “Brexit is coming and we cannot change that. The only thing we can do is join forces to ensure that trade continues as well as possible. We’ve done this by creating Portbase. All that we ask of the businesses is that they register with Portbase, so that the system operates smoothly and our port is properly prepared for Brexit.”

Despite the aforementioned inconveniences, Brexit could give the Netherlands some benefits. Because of the recent strong economic performance of The Netherlands, firms that used to have their headquarters in the UK are moving to The Netherlands such as Unilever, Mitsubishi Financial Group, Tradeweb and MarketAxess. Yet, the voices from domestic economists are concerned. Though the Netherlands is prepared and may become more attractive to some firms, the benefits Brexit may bring will not be able to weigh up for the costs of the changes and preparations The Netherlands have to take on in order to minimise the disorder that WTO regulations on British products would create [5].

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