France Could Lose Billions In Brexit Trade Route Redirection

By Linas Jegelevicius, a veteran Lithuanian editor and freelance journalist, and the editor-in-chief of the Baltic Times newspaper, the longest running English print news outlet in the Baltics, and its news portal Originally published at SafeHaven

In the onging Brexit debacle creating a lack of clarity over the future of European trade relations, France may end up getting cut out of important trade routes that bring billions in revenue—and Paris is now up in arms.

France has vehemently slammed the European Commission‘s proposal to exclude French ports from the planned re-routing of a strategic trade corridor between Ireland and mainland Europe after Brexit.

The new route proposed by the Commission would link Ireland by sea with Dutch and Belgian ports, including Zeebrugge and Rotterdam. Meanwhile, France‘s Calais and Dunkirk ports would be circumvented.

French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne excoriated the move, which could prevent France from taping billions of euros in an EU grant, as “not acceptable”.

In a stern letter to European Commission transport authorities, she said France and Ireland’s “important trade channels” had not been taken into account: “The geographical proximity between Ireland and France creates an obvious connection to the single market…Surprisingly, the Commission proposal in no way takes this into account… This proposal therefore is not acceptable to France.”

For France, much is at stake, including potentially billions in revenues from the ports themselves, jobs and funding for infrastructure from EU programs.

Now, the bulk of Ireland’s trade with the continent stretches via Great Britain in trucks. However, with Brexit looming within the next 8 months, opaqueness lingers not only on the UK‘s future trade relations with the bloc, but also on the nature of the Irish Republic’s border with the British province of Northern Ireland.

While the UK can no longer be part of EU routes after Brexit, bypassing it prevents Irish exports to Europe from getting caught up in British customs.

France’s Roscoff and Cherbourg, the other major ports–both of which are nearer to Ireland–also would be bypassed if the plan goes into effect, meaning that they and the transport infrastructure serving them would not be eligible for additional funding from Brussels to upgrade their facilities.

The European Commission counter-argues that France’s exclusion from Brexit trade route reflects traffic flows.

“The Commission proposal is based on the current transport flows,” said a Commission spokesman. “It makes an adjustment to the corridor to ensure continuity of these traffic flows, which mainly go through certain core ports.”

There are currently no regular maritime connections between Ireland’s main ports at Cork and Dublin and French terminals, but services do run to Rotterdam and Antwerp and between Dublin and Zeebrugge, the spokesman said.

Brittany Ferries runs a direct overnight freight route from Cork to Roscoff every Saturday for arrival in France on Sunday morning. Irish Ferries runs a weekly service from Dublin to Cherbourg, as well as services from Rosslare to Roscoff and Cherbourg every two days. The crossing takes 14 hours.

The Commission, however, says that Roscoff and Cherbourg are too small to be included in an EU priority corridor.

The existing route runs from Edinburgh and Dublin down to Marseille. Calais, along with the Dunkirk and Le Havre ports, are already listed in the North Sea-Mediterranean corridor and so can continue to obtain money from the EU’s flagship infrastructure funding program, the Connecting Europe Facility.

Other French ports excluded from the corridor — including Brest along with Roscoff and Cherbourg — can still seek funding from smaller EU programs aimed to support a “Motorways of the Sea” initiative.

France is said to be preparing to veto the re-routed trade plan between Ireland and Europe as D-Day for Brexit is only eight months away.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    This is a bit of a curious story. My understanding is that the Commission had, prior to Brexit, an ongoing commitement to investing in port capacity to try to get more trucks off the road, especially those going from the northern European ports down to Spain and Italy (mostly going through France of course). There was always interest in promoting more direct routes to Ireland, as driving trucks across Wales and England never made much environmental sense when there was a sea alternative.

    But you only need look at a map to see why links to France make sense, unless the Commission sees longer sea routes as worth it to take trucks off the road. I wouldn’t see why France needs more investment in the ports anyway as reduced trade with Britain is likely to free up capacity.

    1. liam

      I’ve been wondering about the latter myself. I wonder could that increased capacity be stymied by congestion? All those trucks queuing at the ports, etc. I’ve also long wondered about our dependence on accessing the European markets via British ports. It’s never made sense to me.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Not just via British Ports – also via Larne in Northern Ireland (i.e. using UK ports twice). I remember as a youthful economics student listening to a lecturer explain why government investment in Dublin Port was ‘stupid’ when we could free-ride on British investment in Larne. It was one of many moments for me confirming how little economists understood about the world. We are fortunate now we are not as dependent on Larne as we were in the 1980’s.

        It hasn’t helped that the new Irish Ferries ship was delayed – thats supposed to do a regular Dublin France route.

        1. liam

          Economists: All their schools should have the motto “All Else Being Equal” emblazoned above their respective doors. I’ve yet to come across another profession that assumes so much in order to draw conclusions or offer opinions. As for those that listen to them!!!

          Well, we always did say that a benefit of joining the EU was that we could become less reliant on the UK. I guess that’s finally going to come true; and not a moment too soon, (albeit, it would be nice if it wasn’t going to be so disruptively chaotic). Besides ports, and shipping infrastructure, we also really need to up our language game. As much as any economists opinion, language has kept us bound. We need to become more like the Dutch in that regard.

          1. larry

            liam, just singling out economists unqualifiedly is too broad a brush. You should be thinking mainstream economists, which I admit is almost all of them. And it isn’t the ceteris paribus clause that is the problem, as these exist in physics as well, but the rubbish economics they promote.

            1. liam

              Fair enough, larry. You’re correct of course. They do, however, like to assume away a large chunk of what should be relevant to their discipline. In any case, there are a few that I respect. Steve Keen comes to mind.

          2. animalogic

            Hi Liam, bit off topic – & not if it’s even a question you would like to answer, but here goes:
            What effect has Brexit had on Irish attitudes, both Nth & Sth – to somekind of “reunified” Ireland ? Hope this isn’t considered a “dumb” question in your wonderful land.

  2. Fishknife

    Every cloud. . . – less traffic, less pollution by diesel lorries, less road wear, shorter queues at Dover, the French unhappy – – – is there a downside?

    1. St Jacques

      Less accidents, injuries, deaths (from both accidents and air pollution), meaning less repairs, hospital care, and pensions for the permanently injured, and lower insurance premiums, and reduced road construction and maintenance, all of which means reduced economic activity or GDP which is bad. Clearly a terrible idea. Clean air, quiet, green spaces and safety, how insanely backward.

  3. The Rev Kev

    On my map, the European Commission‘s proposal to bypass French ports to go to places like Zeebrugge and Rotterdam appears nuts in terms of logistics. If I understand the situation right, they would literally have to sail past those French ports to get to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam. Sure they could sail all the way around the north of the UK and go via the Shetlands but I see no advantage in that unless they are going to Scandinavia. Zeebrugge is a fast growing port but it is also Europe’s largest terminal for liquefied natural gas and somehow I feel uncomfortable with that idea of having cargo and LNG going through the bottleneck of one port. As for Rotterdam, it is already Europe’s largest port and if more traffic was sent there, you would reckon that it would be even more congested.
    I can only really see two explanations. One is that commercial interests have made a back deal with the Commission which is a possibility. How would you ever find out? The other is that some Larry Lightbulb has decided in their wisdom that smaller ports should be wound up in favour of a few major ports instead, thus centralizing commercial traffic which sounds more likely. After all, centralizing has been a fetish the past coupla decades around the world even if it does get a bit biblical, as in-

    ‘Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’

    1. Synapsid

      The Rev Kev,

      There is, unmentioned perhaps, an advantage to avoiding the well-known propensity for French workers to shut down ports and transport with strikes.

      1. Clive

        The English Channel is also at capacity in terms of shipping lanes (Pg. 14) and prone to “congestion” and incidents. It’s not really suitable for any increases in utilisation is probably best served by a long term strategy to migrate tonnage transited through other routes.

  4. Terry callachan

    The commissions plan is a sound plan given that French ports will be thrust into chaos as Brexit bites.Routing goods away from the hotspots of the French coastline is a good policy and will allow the EU to avoid the untrustworthy Westminster government the opportunity to blame EU trade routes for the long queues at British and French ports.
    The French would more readily take the long queues at their ports if they were given huge EU grants in exchange and would probably claim more and more money to cope with the disasterous consequences of Brexit and would join Westminster in blaming EU trade routes if it meant more money for France.
    This commission ruling is fantastic because it shows us that the EU is on its game and well able to deal with the sneaky snivelling untrustworthy and backstabbing Westminster governments moves.
    It’s too late to stop Brexit now so I say roll on Brexit, I’m in the EU corner rooting for the demolition of the downright selfish and destructive Westminster government

  5. Katsue

    Apparently, Irish exports to either Germany or Belgium exceed Irish exports to France, Spain and Portugal combined, so on the face of it this isn’t as ridiculous as the map might indicate.

    In practice, you’d have to look hard at the composition of the exports – e.g. how much is software or services, and at the ultimate destination of re-exported goods to find out.

  6. Carolinian

    As WW2 buffs know Cherbourg is the “long way in” to central Europe which is why Normandy was picked as a surprise D-day invasion site.

    I once took that ferry from Cherbourg to Rosslare and soggy Ireland.

  7. Synoia

    The overland routes from France to the middle of the EU go north, because the terrain is flat.

    When looking at maps, please ensure you review the physical maps of the land. Pay particular attention to mountains (bad), and large rivers (both good and bad).

    The Germans invaded France through Belgium, both in WW I and WW II. The allies invaded German through Belgium and Holland.

    France has mountains to the East and South.

  8. OldHand

    Concernimg Brexit no-deal. If any EU port delays lorries from UK causing chaos, won’t the EU lorries on their return trip to EU countries be trapped in the UK?

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