ROTTERDAM, Netherlands – Authorities at the Port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest, are piling up provisions in the warehouses, mobilizing customs staff and veterinarians and handing out legal information to companies in preparation for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
There is a feeling that the maritime trade hub in the Dutch city is bracing for a natural disaster of sorts.
Taking advantage of the fact that, as things stand, there is no border control, businesses have rented additional lots at the port to stockpile all kinds of goods from chemical products to food and drinks.
Brexit threatens to make the process of exporting a crate of milk or a container of fruit a question of days rather than hours.
A no-deal Brexit, whereby the UK crashes out of the EU, its single market and customs union without an agreement on the next step, would throw up a whole host of complicated legal changes and could require the implication of customs and passport checks as well as health inspections on animal products.
This could prove to be a headache for Port of Rotterdam authorities, given the UK’s heft as an EU trading partner.
Some 3,000 trucks loaded with cargo destined for Britain pass back and forth through Rotterdam each day.
Applying third-party regulations to an economy the size of the UK has fueled uncertainty at the port.
“We are not only hiring people, but we are also giving out information to businesses so they themselves can prepare,” Nanette can Schelven, General Director of Dutch Customs, told EFE.
“For instance, I sent a letter to 72,000 Dutch businesses to prepare themselves, and at this moment we are giving leaflets and flyers to foreign lorry drivers with information in 10 languages,” she said.
The EU’s decision to grant the UK government’s request to extend the Brexit negotiation period by a window of between one and two months does nothing but pile more uncertainty onto all those involved in the organization of cross-border trade at the Port of Rotterdam.
“We cannot take risks, nor can we allow ourselves to not prepare for what might happen and, given how it’s been since the beginning, we have been expecting the worse for two years,” said Mark Dijk, the Port of Rotterdam Authority’s External Affairs Manager.
While a non-negotiated Brexit would be the worst of all outcomes for authorities, a so-called orderly Brexit would not safeguard smooth trade for the companies that use the Port of Rotterdam daily either.
Whether or not the UK and the EU agree to a transition period, businesspeople and truck drivers will not be able to embark or disembark from a ferry unless all their documents are in order and their products meet the required standards.
The Netherlands Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) has hired hundreds of veterinarians to handle a likely increase in food inspections, said its head of imports, Liesbeth Kooijman, adding that some 900 extra customs agents have been hired since last year in preparation for the Brexit fallout.
The Port Authority estimates that around 400 trucks a day will become jammed in the port after Brexit due to lack of paperwork. To avoid disruption, authorities have set aside five new additional parking areas with space for over 700 trucks.
Truck drivers will have a maximum of 24 hours to get their documentation in order and register their cargo before they are granted permission to access the ferry terminals in Vlaardingen to continue their journey.
In a bid to keep trade as seamless as possible, port authorities in Rotterdam and Amsterdam will after Brexit harness the fully digitized customs platform Portbase, which was designed in collaboration with interest groups and ferry operators.
The data tracked by Portbase can be reused on later journeys.
Lawmakers in the UK’s Parliament have twice rejected the Brexit deal drawn up by Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU.
May, a conservative, was now in a last-ditch effort to strike a parliamentary consensus.
But while politicians in London and Brussels mull over the drawn-out and highly-complicated issue of Brexit, Dutch authorities brace for the worse.