Q2 Port Freight Stats Highlight Continued Volatility

The UK’s Q2 2021 port freight statistics from the Department for Transport released today indicate positive signs of economic recovery despite ongoing pandemic impacts and new post-Brexit​ processes with UK-EU traffic.

When comparing April to June 2021 with this period in 2020 through UK ports, total freight tonnage increased by 13% to 110.7 million tonnes; with inward traffic seeing a large increase of 22%, compared to a 2% fall in outward tonnage.

Alternatively, unitised traffic (containers and HGV trailers) increased by 38% to 4.5 million units, with inward units experiencing the greatest increase with a 42% rise, while outward units increased by 33%.

This by no means indicates a return to ‘normal’ levels, as these figures formed in comparison on Q2 2020, when the grip of the pandemic was at its worst; hence why these figures appear to be such a stark increase.

There is a rise in units on Q1 of this year, however, this trend is broadly similar to what is usually seen between Q1 and Q2 and volumes are typically quieter in the early part of the new year. However, with reference to overall tonnage, the rise from Q1 to Q2 has been to a far greater extent than 2019 - indicating a positive trend of economic recovery due to the increase of goods arriving in the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, the only decrease in volumes seen in Q2 of this year (compared to 2020) was outward tonnage, which fell by 2%. This is difficult to diagnose and could due to several current issues affecting the economy and supply chains.

Commenting, Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy Manager and Economic Analyst, at the British Ports Association said:

“There are positives to be drawn from today’s publication of the Department for Transport’s Q2 port freight statistics with a proportionally strong rise in tonnages from Q1 to Q2 compared to 2019 data. However, these stark rises compared to Q2 2020 serve as false friends for volumes returning to pre-pandemic levels.

With regards to the picture of UK and global trading volumes, the enduring theme of the last 18 months has been volatility and today’s release is no exception. This volatility has placed immense pressure on port operators due to ever-changing volume levels, putting further pressure on efficiencies, which has been exacerbated by haulier shortages.

The UK’s diverse range of ports have demonstrated their resilience during the pandemic and we expect this challenging overall picture for ports to continue at least into Q2 next year.”