Brexit hits Liverpool Irish freight trade

Post-Brexit trading rules have sent ro-ro freight volumes between the Republic of Ireland and Liverpool plummeting, official data shows. Tony McDonough reports

Seatruck Progress
Seatruck Progress heads out of the Mersey bound for Dublin. Picture by HowardLiverpool


Volumes of freight coming from the Republic of Ireland to Liverpool have plummeted since new Brexit trading arrangements came into force on January 1, 2021.

New data from the the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) show the dramatic impact the new trading rules have had on Irish Sea freight trade. Freight volumes from the Republic of Ireland to Liverpool and Holyhead plunged 19% in the first nine months of this year, the report reveals.

Prior to Brexit Irish exporters regularly utilised the so-called UK landbridge, sending goods across the Irish Sea to UK ports for transportation onto other countries within the EU using ro-ro (vessels transporting lorries) services.

However, since the beginning of 2021 there has been a significant shift to direct ro-ro routes from ports such as Dublin and Rosslare to France. In 2019 there were just 16 direct routes connecting the Republic with France – now that has rocketed to 44.

In the third quarter of this year direct trade between the Republic of Ireland and the EU has shot up by 98%. In contrast, freight volumes between the Republic and the UK were down 23% year-on-year. And the IMDO says the new customs rules faced by exporters sending goods to the UK is the main reason for the shift.

There are two Irish Sea shipping companies operating between Dublin and Liverpool. They are P&O and Seatruck. Both companies currently operate services between the two ports up to three times a day.

Brexit has also seen hauliers based in Northern Ireland switch much of their trade from ports in the Republic with a 15% rise in freight volumes out of Belfast, 18% from Larne and 20% from Warrenpoint. Stena Line operates up to two sailings a day between Birkenhead on the Mersey and Belfast.

Norbank, the Liverpool to Dublin cargo ferry in the Mersey. Picture by HowardLiverpool


In its report, the IMDO says: “The IMDO consults regularly with industry stakeholders. According to such groups, the most significant factor behind the decline in ROI – GB traffic has been concerns of delays and disruption on the UK landbridge as a result of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“It is clear that in the first nine months of 2021, many more importers and exporters have chosen alternative logistical arrangements, which includes the use of direct EU shipping services, as a means to access EU markets.”

On Saturday, Rosslare Europort enjoyed the busiest day in its history. General manager, Glenn Carr, said haulers were increasingly looking to avoid transporting goods to the UK due to Brexit red tape and subsequent costs.

He explained: “In particular industries, we’re definitely seeing where traditionally a lot of goods were sourced in the UK or exported to the UK, there’s been a switch to Europe. We definitely see it in the port in terms of the mix of goods that are there now – ingredients, food, dairy, pharmaceuticals.”

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