Despite a temperamental global trading climate and the uncertainties created by Brexit, UK port operators witnessed a steady year in 2018.

According to a UK Port Freight Statistics report, the data for 2018 showed stable port freight tonnages overall, with only a 0.1% difference on the previous year at 483.3 million tonnes. However, overall unit load traffic declined, likely due to a drop of port traffic in passenger cars and new trade cars.

During 2018, the UK continued to import more than it exports as a total of 252.4 million tonnes were imported, compared to 130.5 million tonnes exported.

Additionally, the EU remained the country’s largest trade partner as more goods were moved between UK major ports and the EU than any other region in 2018, accounting for 44%, or 206.2 million tonnes, of total major port traffic.

Liquid bulk goods, which account for 39% of total tonnage, decreased 5% overall, while unitised traffic fell to 23.9 million units, after five consecutive years of growth. Container units increased to a record high of 6 million, however, overall roll-on roll-off traffic fell by 1% to 17.9 million units passing through UK major ports.

“Overall port freight figures remain constant although there is plenty of port capacity in the dry bulks, project cargo and particularly in the container sectors, meaning shipping companies have plenty of choice. This means competition between ports, which drives efficiencies and innovation,” Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy and Economic Analyst at the British Ports Association, said.

Statistics for the fourth quarter of port freight tonnage showed a growth of 6% to 121.8 million tonnes, which is consistent with suggestions that UK manufacturers were “stockpiling” inventory ahead of expected trade disruptions in the first and second quarters of 2019.

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