Maritime Nations Forum charts new course for British-Dutch relations


  • Leading maritime businesses and government officials from the Netherlands and UK met on Thursday (17 January) to discuss future trade and maritime relations
  • The Forum signalled intent to strengthen UK-Netherlands relations as the UK leaves the EU
  • The inaugural UK-NL Maritime Nations Forum brings two like-minded maritime nations together to discuss opportunities for trade, collaboration and growth

The collaborative Forum, organised by Maritime UK and the Dutch Government, saw over 100 participants, including 30 Dutch companies and members of the Dutch Government in attendance.

The Forum brought Dutch and British decision makers together to discuss how the two nations can work closely together in the maritime arena - with Thursday’s focus on port innovation.

“The idea behind the UK-NL Maritime Nations Forum was to provide a platform to British and Dutch ports to share their innovation challenges and successes and encourage an open conversation on how to create smart ports” says Marjolein Bouwers, Chief Representative at the Netherlands Business Support Office. “The Forum proved an excellent opportunity to discuss best practices between the two countries, and to create new connections to work together on a range of innovation themes.

Chaired by Richard Ballantyne (CEO of the British Ports Association), keynote speakers included Gert-Jan Nieuwenhuizen (Managing Director at the Port of Amsterdam) and Andrew Byrne (Managing Director at the Port of Immingham) who shared their vision for sustainable growth driven by innovation, and how to confront the current challenges facing both maritime nations.

The Forum saw delegates discussing the huge propensity for maritime trade and collaboration between both countries in spite of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and highlights how areas like Liverpool are taking practical steps toward positive trade relationships with the UK’s European neighbours.

The morning started with presentations from PD Ports, Erasmus University, Port of Sunderland and Port of Immingham who each showcased examples of respective innovation strategies, how they plan for digital transformation, and more broadly the challenges, opportunities and barriers to growth each face.

The ports were followed by showcases of successful innovation projects and best practice from EVConsult, University of Hull, New Energy Coalition, Rebel Group and 3DEO. Speakers covered topics including emission-free transport, green ports and big data.

Many of the successful innovation projects features a strong role for maritime research institutes; and speakers from the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands, Liverpool John Moores University, Deltares and SMMI at Southampton, shared their thoughts and ambition on collaboration between academia and industry.

Two panel sessions ended the Forum, with the first comprising Peel Ports, Royal HaskoningDHV and Port of Rotterdam exploring smart ports, and the second asking how to create a port innovation culture of excellence, hearing from Mersey Maritime, ABP, Port of Amsterdam and Maritime UK.

Both the UK and the Netherlands have thriving ports, an excellent workforce and renowned maritime research institutes. Yet they also face similar societal and climate challenges. There is, therefore, a wider call to more actively exchange knowledge, skills and concepts. Ports play an important role in emission reduction and are well positioned to take advantage of innovations in the Internet of Things, AI and Big Data to not only improve flow, situation and customer management, but also address climate challenges. A closer collaboration between the digital port transformation hubs, smart port clusters but also with maritime knowledge institutes in both countries will open up a wealth of knowledge for maritime clusters in both the Netherlands and the UK.

The UK maritime sector is looking keenly to the future, with £1.7bn of port infrastructure investment in the pipeline for our ports over the next 3 years. The first-of-its-kind event with the Dutch is a clear and open message to the UK’s European counterparts that Britain is very much open for business and keen to strengthen links regardless of Brexit.

Ben Murray, Director of Maritime UK, said on the forum:

“The first high-level Maritime Nations Forum between our two countries show a clear intent to strengthen relations and collaboration between our two maritime nations. At a time of great uncertainty for the UK as it leaves the European Union, we should celebrate that business is getting on with its job - fostering innovation, driving exports and creating jobs. The UK is leaving the EU, not Europe. Today's event shows that British Industry is as keen as ever to build stronger links with our North Sea neighbour."

The Forum was organised with Mersey Maritime and sponsored by Royal HaskoningDHV and Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe.

The second Maritime Nations Forum will be held later in the year.