Overall freight flows have returned to the same levels as last year.
Internal figures seen by the BBC show outbound roll-on roll-off lorry traffic for Great Britain for the month so far at 98% of last February’s levels.
Inbound traffic is at 99% of last year’s levels.
The transition period after the UK left the EU is now over, and a new regime is in place.
One official says the government is “pleased that overall flows are back to normal”.
About 80-90% of laden lorries are arriving border-ready.
Larger manufacturing firms in particular appear to have taken advantage of new systems designed to prepare loads for the border on leaving premises.
Officials say they are pleased that overall flows are back to normal.
However, their analysis of data from multiple sources – ferry manifests, port traffic, the Channel Tunnel, French officials and Kent Permit checks – also shows:
Lorry traffic on the crossing from Kent to the EU on ferries and via the Channel Tunnel in January was 67% of the same month in 2020, and 82% in February.
Although there is no formal count of empty lorries, a variety of ferry company, French, and UK official data suggest the proportion of empty lorries going back to the EU at around 50%.
French sources suggested Eurotunnel, which tends to transfer higher-value loads, was seeing 50-60% empty loads.
Industry sources said the existence of such empty lorries was not new, but that this was normally at 25-30%.
So far this year, there is also evidence of freight routes changing and more traffic going via Harwich and Immingham to the Netherlands, though this will also reflect the recent French Covid testing policy.
The Government’s data on lorries turning back due to the wrong documentation is now below 2.5%, having been closer to 8% in the first days of the new regime.
Combining the reduction in traffic flow with the increased number of empty lorries, it is possible to calculate that actual lorry transfers of freight in January from Kent to the EU were substantially down, by around 2,000 lorries a day compared to January 2020.
Even now, with overall levels back to normal, there are around 1,000-2,000 fewer lorries exiting the whole of Great Britain with actual freight.
This is partly down to pre-Christmas stockpiling, but that effect is likely to be waning now.
The government has also internally identified what type of exports are in the lorries, as that information is reported in ferry manifest data.
From this, it has concluded internally that exports of clothing and apparel have been hit mainly by a Covid lockdown impact.
But the fall in food, agriculture and sea fish exports is the impact of the post-Brexit transition period.
The big picture is that the worst-case scenario queues have not materialised. But the economic impact in specific areas of the economy is noticeable in the same data.
French officials confirmed this same general picture, and both sides of the Channel reported a good level of cooperation in ironing out problems with, for example, IT systems.
Official statistics on this will only start to be available with trade figures for July published next month.
Internally, the Government’s hope is that the lack of congestion can now tempt cautious traders back into fully using these trade routes.
There is for the moment a big debate in UK about trade volumes for GB-EU right now.
Yesterday the Road Haulage Association (RHA) stated that volumes were down 68% during January.
Cabinet office official Emma Churchill (BPDG) today said ‘trade flows have held up exceptionally well since the end of the Transition Period’ despite a dip in early January. This month total outbound across all UK ports is 98% of the equivalent last year and inbound trade is at 99%’.
Michael Gove said ’…the figure given for exports from the UK to EU falling by 68% since the start of the year ‘was erroneous and based on a partial survey’.
Freight traffic through the Port of Dover is running at 90% of usual levels, better than had been feared amid new Brexit red tape and another round of social restrictions to contain the coronavirus.
The port’s figures are higher than a U.K. government estimate of 82%, which was provided in response to claims from the Road Haulage Association that truck cargoes to the European Union were down 68% last month compared to a year earlier.
The Cabinet Office said flows through all U.K. ports last week were “close to normal” despite the impact of lockdowns on trade and denied that up to three-quarters of vehicles that had arrived in Britain from the EU were returning empty.
“It is an entirely normal part of freight flows to have empty lorries on the outbound leg from the U.K. into the EU — this has always been the case,” the government said, adding that “all IT systems and infrastructure were ready in time and are operating effectively.”
Speaking to lawmakers on Monday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the RHA’s 68% figure was “erroneous. It was based on a partial survey.”
Nevertheless, David Emerson, a director at SEKO Logistics, said new paperwork requirements had made freight forwarding “very difficult,” especially given congestion at Felixstowe and Southampton ports. He estimated that volumes for parcels were up to 70% lower than last year.
I personally initially had another candidate as favourite for the job, but to be honest – it is about time.
The path has been cleared for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the first woman and the first African to lead the World Trade Organization after South Korea’s candidate pulled out of the race for the job.
Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean trade minister, announced her decision to withdraw in a televised briefing on Friday.
Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and former finance minister of Nigeria, already enjoyed broad support from WTO members, including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
Okonjo-Iweala is a competent and experienced leader that will do great as new Director-General and she certainly will need support. WTO has never before had so many challenges as right now.
The United States, under the Trump administration, had favored Yoo, complicating the decision-making process since the selection of a new leader requires all WTO members to agree. Okonjo-Iweala’s formal selection may have to wait until after the United States appoints a new trade representative.
Yoo said that her decision had been reached after “close consultation” with the United States. The WTO had been without a leader for too long, she added.
The Geneva-based body, tasked with promoting free trade, has been without a permanent director general since Roberto Azevêdo stepped down a year earlier than planned at the end of August after the WTO was caught in the middle of an escalating trade fight between the United States and China.
The Trump administration was highly critical of the WTO and undermined its standing by imposing tariffs on Canada, Mexico, China and the European Union. Okonjo-Iweala will thus assume control of an organization that has struggled to prevent trade spats between its members.
While US President Joe Biden has already taken steps to restore support for multilateral institutions, he is expected to proceed with caution when it comes to signing any new trade deals.
In a speech to the State Department Thursday, Biden pledged to put diplomacy back at the center of US foreign policy, but was also careful to emphasize that foreign policy should benefit middle-class Americans.
Okonjo-Iweala, who hails from one of the few parts of the world where free trade is ascendent, told CNN in August that trade would play an important role in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The WTO needs a leader at this time. It needs a fresh look, a fresh face, an outsider, someone with the capability to implement reforms and to work with members to make sure the WTO comes out of the partial paralysis that it’s in,” she said in an interview.
Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of managing director. She also chaired the board of Gavi, which is helping to distribute coronavirus vaccines globally, stepping down at the end of her term in December.