The European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), of which the UK Chamber is a member, have sent a letter to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, urging the EU for “rapid and positive” progress in trade talks with the UK.
The European Council is currently engaged in a key vote on whether the next stage of negotiations will commence.
ECSA represents shipowners from both sides of the Channel – organisations that facilitate a sizeable chunk of the €639 billion of trade that flows between the UK and EU annually.
Until now, there has been no formal position from large, private-sector EU bodies on trade negotiations between the UK and the EU.
In 2016, 155 million tonnes of trade were carried by ship between the UK and its top five EU trading partners: the Netherlands, France, Belgium
, Ireland and Spain. European shipowners make up seven of the top ten nationalities of ship carrying this trade.
Guy Platten, CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping, welcomed the letter, saying: “This is a clear statement from shipowners across the European Union
and United Kingdom that a robust and ambitious trade agreement that allows goods to flow as freely and quickly as possible is essential and is in both sides’ interests.
“Shipping moves over 206 million tonnes of goods each year worth many hundreds of billions of pounds between the EU and UK, and it is imperative that we avoid any friction at our borders, not just at Dover, Holyhead and Portsmouth, but also Dublin, Calais, Zeebrugge and many other ports across the UK and continent – as well as the economies they all serve.
“We recognise negotiations have been and will be difficult but trade is the best form of diplomacy.”
Platten represents the entire UK shipping industry and the letter, sent on Wednesday, shows his EU counterparts would also like to see progress in ensuring that frictionless trade is preserved after Brexit.
Niels Smedegaard, outgoing ECSA president, said: “We need an agreement that will ensure the continuation of trade volumes and unimpeded trade movements across our shared borders. The industry should be kept informed about the progress in order to be able to prepare and get ready in time.
“European shipowners would like to see the Brexit negotiations respect the need for a level playing field for EU and UK shipping. We encourage the EU and UK to be guided by the objective of conformity in legislation relating to maritime affairs.”