Lorry park 

Shifting to northern ports could take advantage of a wider labour pool, logistics experts suggested

Fruit and veg importers are considering moving their business to ports in the north east to avoid no-deal Brexit gridlock at Dover.

Some “50 days of chaos” could be on the horizon at the Port of Dover should the UK require new import and export documentation to move goods across the channel, said Alan Robertson of logistics specialist Webster Robertson at the Fruit Logistica exhibition in Berlin last week.

The port, which currently operates near capacity, handles about 17% of freight that comes into and out of the UK. This has created concerns of a pinch point that could significantly affect fresh produce supply chains.

Suppliers including Tesco partner G’s Group are already mulling alternative import and export options, such as turning to ports in the north east of England instead.

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G’s was looking to create an “import hub” away from the south east of England, said marketing director Anthony Gardiner.

The grower operates a large proportion of its business from Spain, growing in the Mediterranean before transporting for sale in the UK.

Such a move would ease pressure on Dover, while making use of spare capacity at other deep sea ports, added James Leeson, commercial director at DP World ports.

Increased journey times

A host of “major” suppliers across fmcg were also planning alternative routes into the UK, suggested Leeson. However, moving supplies to northern ports could also add time to crossings, affecting shelf life and even availability in some parts of the UK, suggested Robert Hardy, commercial director of logistics specialist Oakland Invicta.

But despite these concerns, northern routes would also take advantage of larger labour pools, while the south continued to struggle with availability of lorry drivers, he added. 

Leaving the EU as planned on 29 March with no deal in place would also lead importers to have to fill in some 255 million additional customs declarations each year, Hardy warned.

Those would come from 145,000 British companies that had never filled one in before, and about 160,000 companies from the EU that supply products into the UK.

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Meanwhile, sanitation inspections could add further delays to fresh produce and other agricultural products at borders.

Hardy also urged companies who imported produce from outside the EU to start bringing products to the UK directly rather than via Europe to avoid delays at borders.

“The UK’s exports to the EU in 2017 were worth £274bn, while our imports for the same period were £341bn,” said Robertson.

“As a nation of 66 million, we cannot currently feed ourselves – more than 29% of our food comes from the EU.

“Just a small delay on either side of the Channel would chaos on the roads, so there’s a lot of work going on for an IT solution so as not to impede the physical flow of the lorry and take care of paperwork while it’s in transit.”