Blog: Britain’s global maritime sector can make Global Britain a reality

Sometimes it’s worth re-emphasising: Britain is an island nation. For centuries, Britain has reached out across the oceans to connect with and trade with nations around the globe. And pre or post Brexit, Britain’s fundamental strengths and traditions as a maritime nation remain constant.

Our island status was inevitably the catalyst for making those connections in the first place. Britain’s shipping heritage in turn provided the strong foundations for the world-leading international maritime sector we have today, encompassing trading, chartering, shipbroking, insurance, law, arbitration, finance, IT, training & education, research, marine engineering and manufacturing, logistics and a whole host of related activities.

The UK maritime sector supports more than 500,000 jobs, contributes £22.2bn to UK GDP, and drives exports and inward investment. Britain’s ports handle ships and cargoes heading to and from thousands of destinations around the world. And across the sector we continue to invest and innovate.

The UK maritime sector is already established as a leading player on the world stage. Now it will play a critical role in ensuring that the UK makes a success of Brexit – and the work has already begun.

At the end of this month, Maritime UK will team up with the Department of International Trade to lead a three-day trade mission to China to promote the UK’s products, services and investment opportunities – in short, to highlight the ‘complete package’ that the UK, as the world’s maritime centre, can offer to global maritime business.

The timing of the mission is certainly symbolic; Article 50 will be formally triggered on Day Two. The event will also coincide with the visit to Shanghai of an iconic British ship, the RMS Queen Mary 2. The vessel will be used to promote UK excellence across shipping, ports, marine and business services and will play host to pioneering companies from across the maritime sector, a number of which will be visiting China for the first time.

Senior industry and government leaders from both the UK and China will be attending the mission, including the UK’s Shipping and Ports Minister, John Hayes, and Trade Minister Mark Garnier.

As the UK triggers Article 50 and looks to a future outside the European Union, there are numerous potential trade deals to be negotiated. The UK’s highly competitive, efficient ports are key to the swift, efficient flow of goods, and port operators continue to invest.

The Port of Dover has embarked on its largest single investment ever – the Dover Western Docks Revival Project will create a purpose-built cargo and logistics facility and the first stage, with a contract value of £115m, is due for completion at the end of next year (2018).

On the Thames, DP World London Gateway will soon open its third deepwater container berth and substantial new logistics facilities are being built. The Port of Tilbury is progressing with its ‘Tilbury 2’ expansion, having bought the 152-acre former Tilbury Power Station site, with its deepwater jetties, and Amazon’s 2.2. million sq ft fulfilment centre, the largest warehouse ever to be built in the UK, is due to open mid-2017.

At Felixstowe, Hutchison Ports UK completed its deepwater Berth 9 extension at the end of 2015 and is reaping the rewards of its significant investment in rail operations, while at Southampton, ABP has a five-year plan to invest £170m across the port. An £8.3m upgrade of the port’s fresh produce terminal was officially opened in November last year. In Liverpool, the UK’s major transatlantic port, Peel Ports’ £400m Liverpool2 deepwater container terminal came online in November 2016, and on the Humber, ABP is investing £50 million to more than double the capacity of its two container terminals at Hull and Immingham.

A staggering 95% of our imported goods arrive by sea – and it is now time to focus on exports too, with the new opportunities delivered by Brexit. The ‘Made in Britain’ label is highly sought-after across the globe and as the UK forges new trade deals with many nations, including some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the opportunities to grow our exports are tremendous.

Shipbuilding is another area of huge optimism – and, thanks to Boaty McBoatface, the renaissance in UK shipbuilding hasn’t gone unnoticed amongst the general public. The UK’s new £200 million polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, is under construction at Cammell Laird on Merseyside. This 120-metre vessel (with its memorably named autonomous submarine) is due to be operational by 2019.

Luxury yacht manufacturer Princess Yachts International, which employs about 2,000 staff at its headquarters in Plymouth, has seen a boom in orders and announced plans to recruit 100 more workers and invest £55m in new boat models. MBNA Thames Clippers has two new 170 capacity passenger boats under construction at the Wight Shipyard Co on the Isle of Wight, and these will join London’s growing river transport network this year. And eight Type 26 frigates are to be built at BAE’s Govan and Scotstoun yards on the River Clyde in Glasgow.

Brexit could free up the UK from EU procurement and State Aid rules, which would prove another boost to UK shipbuilding and marine engineering.

The maritime industry has a unique opportunity to make ‘Global Britain’ a reality, and it is ready to do so. The trade and investment relationship between the UK and China has deepened over recent years and, during the trade mission to Shanghai, Maritime UK and the DIT will be working with the Pudong New Area to identify new maritime trade and investment opportunities for both countries. A significant number of British companies are already working with China – we can look forward to opening new chapters in these relationships, and beginning others.

Nearer to home, the sheer strength of the UK as a global maritime hub will be illustrated at London International Shipping Week (LISW), which takes place this year on September 11-15. Featuring more than 160 industry functions and networking opportunities, LISW will be attended by leaders from across all sectors of the international shipping industry. This is where the big issues and opportunities are discussed and debated, on a world stage.

Chinese industry leaders will be receiving personal invitations to LISW and the organisers will be hosting a ‘Business Lounge’ to continue to develop relationships created during the Shanghai mission and with other countries. It is worth noting that Brexit will allow a review of the rules around residency, too, which could make the UK a more attractive place to live and operate a business.

The maritime sector, the engine of global trade, will be central to the success of a post-Brexit world.

We have only just begun.

This article was originally published on BrexitCentral