As an island nation, the ports industry is by far the UK’s gateway to the rest of the world, handling the vast majority of all the physical trade entering and leaving our shores. With 75% of total UK trade tonnage handled by UKMPG members, we are committed to ensuring the country remains open for business and a thriving trading nation on the global stage. The geopolitical situation changes and trade patterns shift but ports remain central to how the UK connects with the world.
Ports are crucial enablers of strategic supply chains that span the globe, allowing industries to import and export the goods vital to daily life like food, raw materials, and medicines. Nearly half of the UK’s food and feed needs have been handled by one of the UK’s largest ports, as well as most likely the screen you are viewing this on. The UK ports sector also contributes approximately £9.7bn to the British economy through its own activities. Through playing these key gateway roles, as well as acting as catalysts for economic activity, ports provide vital investment and employment opportunities to coastal communities.
However, this access to global trade is good for everyone, not just the economy and local communities here in the UK. According to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank1, trade openness leads to higher productivity, more choice and lower prices. A 1% increase in the trade to GDP ratio leads to a 0.17% – 0.33% improvement in GDP per capita, resulting in a stronger and more robust economy, meaning more prosperity and higher living standards for all. Embracing a global market can also lead to greater investment in innovation as access to markets further afield encourages sectors to reallocate resources towards greater efficiency and increased competition2. This in turn reduces prices which directly benefits lower-income households who consume a disproportionally higher share of tradeable goods and services such as food and beverages3.
Investment funding as well as goods move around the world. Here too the major ports sector, has been a largely unheralded success story for the UK. The sector has grown under long term focused private sector ownership. In addition to a strong ownership base here in the UK, including 6,2 million UK pension fund members, the sector has also secured significant inward investment from around the world, including North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Ports also have a significant role to play in guaranteeing the ecological, as well as financial, health of the planet. Climate change poses a very threat and UK ports have stepped up to meet the challenge of global sustainability by playing a leading role in lowering emissions and protecting the environment. For example, port operators are investing heavily in technologies designed to help us reach net zero carbon emissions. This includes the increased electrification of portside vehicles, the reduction and clearing of marine plastics, and new energy sources such as hydrogen and biomass. Moving freight by water is already the most emission-efficient means of transporting goods, and UKMPG continues to work with the Government and regulators to ensure coastal nodes meet high ecological standards.
The UK ports sector remains highly competitive, providing choice and value for UK business and consumers, while actively engaging with the wider world. In the face of the pandemics, changes in the UK’s relationships with trading blocks and shifting nature of geopolitics, UKMPG members remain highly resilient and maintain the flow of essential supplies to us all. UKMPG members and other ports are primed to continue their vital role. We look forward to working closely with Governments and other stakeholders so they provide the crucial enabling infrastructure and regulation that maximises the huge value of the ports sector and trade more generally to the UK.
1 International Monetary Fund, The Word Bank, and World Trade Organisation, Making Trade an Engine of Growth for All: The Case for Trade and for Policies to Facilitate Adjustment, 2017.
2 De Loecker J., and Goldberg P.K. 2014. “Firm Performance in a Global Market,” Annual Review of
3 Faijgelbaum, P. and Khandelwal, A. 2016. “Measuring the Unequal Gains from Trade,” The Quarterly
Journal of Economics, 131.
4 Rajan, R., and Zingales, L. 2004. Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists: Unleashing the Power of
Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity, Princeton: Princeton University
Press.; WTO. 2013. World Trade Report 2013: Factors Shaping the Future of World
5 Tong, H., and Wei, S. J. 2014. “Does Trade Globalization Induce or Inhibit Corporate Transparency?
Unbundling the Growth Potential and Product Market Competition Channels,” Journal of
International Economics, 94.
6 International Labour Office (ILO). 2016. Assessment of Labour Provisions in Trade and Investment Arrangements, Geneva: International Labour Office.