Foyle Port has seen no change since the NI Protocol came into effect.
A Foyle Port CEO has said the Derry harbour has been operating ‘extremely well’ since the NI Protocol was introduced.
Tensions have been mounting in Northern Ireland with unionist politicians claiming the NI Protocol is unworkable due to delays and inspections of goods coming from Great Britain to NI.
Senior representatives from four NI ports addressed members of the Infrastructure Committee at Stormont today.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Brian McGrath of Foyle Port and Harbour, said: “I’m pleased to say we have had no impact in terms of our trade flows, which is to some extent because of the nature of the work that we do here.
“Unlike the east coast ports with their ferries and the pressures associated with that kind of trade, we have had our specific challenges but perhaps not to the same extent as the others.”
He added: “It has really been business as usual here largely due to the preparations we did in advance.”
Derry’s port handles approximately two million tonnes of cargo per year and offers a range of services including towage, dredging, engineering and steel fabrication.
Mr McGrath said Foyle Port is looking to come out of Brexit and the pandemic with a ‘firm footing to do our part with regional economic development and investment’.
“In that respect, that’s why we’re very keen on the development of the whole free port concept for Northern Ireland.
“Foyle Port have been to the fore in terms of driving that thinking forward together with other stakeholders.
“We want to get a situation where we’re not competing against each other, necessarily, and trying to find an accommodation where we can be as inclusive as possible.”
Mr McGrath (above) added that free ports could help develop the business and support the economy.
Free ports are designated by the government as areas with little to no tax in order to encourage economic activity.
While located geographically within a country, they essentially exist outside its borders for tax purposes.
Companies operating within free ports can benefit from deferring the payment of taxes until their products are moved elsewhere, or can avoid them altogether if they bring in goods to store or manufacture on site before exporting them again.
Mr McGrath said the focus for ports should be on innovation rather than customs, done in alignment with City Deal geography and with an ‘innovation-led renewables’ agenda in mind.
During the meeting representatives from other ports said that volumes have been steady and it’s not possible to fully assess the impact of Brexit at this stage.
It emerged that difficulties in trading between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain following Brexit is leading to increased trade flows through NI.
Addressing the meeting, Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson (below) said Foyle Port deals with bulk cargo in the form of commodities rather than a ‘roll on, roll off’ operation at other NI ports.
She said it was good to know there is ‘steady traffic, increased flows and no delays’ at other ports.
She referred to a previous meeting at which Mr McGrath said it would have been ‘catastrophic’ for Foyle Port if a Brexit deal had not been agreed – resulting in a possible loss of up to 40 per cent of trade.
In response, he informed her that the NI Protocol prevented that from happening.
“Whilst I know it is particularly controversial and impacting more on the west-east trade, the protocol in terms of Foyle Port works extremely well for us.
“But it’s because of the nature of the commodities that we’re dealing in and the nature of our cross-border trades.”
He continued: “Within NI ports it is one that is different to the rest and I’m not suggesting it’s shared with the others, but from our perspective the Protocol staved off what would have been a very, very serious situation for us.
“We’ve had no difficulties in getting trade flows out the gate.
“We’re confident we can continue on as we have done since January 1st.”
Minimal issues in terms of compliance with the Protocol have all been addressed, he added.
Martina Anderson went on to say that Free Ports would ‘most likely exacerbate regional imbalance’ and ‘undermine local and All-Ireland trade’.
She talked about the issue of tax evasion, tax trade and money laundering criminality at other Free Ports.
Mr McGrath agreed that ports don’t want to go down that route adding that the most pressing issue in NI is whether a Free Port is compatible with the Protocol.
By looking at green energy the Free Port policy could be used as a stimulus in that direction, he concluded.
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