Let’s stay calm after the Brexit referendum

A column by Mark Dijk, program manager EU and Germany of the Port of Rotterdam

On the morning of 24 June, the news that the citizens of the UK had voted in favour of a Brexit came like a bolt out of the blue. The financial markets’ response was immediate – and very negative. In addition, the one thing that stood out was just how unclear it is which effect this decision will have on the UK, Europe and the private sector. This led to speculation, which led to much uncertainty in the private sector. What exactly will the consequences be for the port of Rotterdam?

The port of Rotterdam does a lot of business with the United Kingdom. Over 11 per cent of the port’s total imports and exports – some 54 million tonnes – are shipped between the British Isles and the port of Rotterdam every year. As a part of the EU’s internal market, the port of Rotterdam benefits from trading with the world’s fifth-largest economy. In terms of European legislation and regulations, the UK’s present membership of the EU is also an advantage for the port. In matters like e.g. government support and free trade, the UK’s position is generally more in line with the Netherlands and Rotterdam’s market-oriented approach than with the strategies adopted by other countries.

In short: as a part of the European market, the UK is important for the port of Rotterdam. If this situation were to change because the United Kingdom actually left the European Union, this would undoubtedly have consequences for the port. The question remains, however, how severe these consequences will be. It is unimaginable that the United Kingdom – a service economy that is home to some 60 million consumers – would suddenly no longer require products from abroad.

A far greater threat than everything speculated so far about the Brexit is the growing trend towards protectionism in many of the EU member states. Today, many people take the prosperity brought by the European internal market as a given, and they have developed the idea that global economic developments can be handled more effectively by countries on their own rather than in partnership with one another. This broader trend could have a negative impact on Europe’s internal market – and as such on the position of the port of Rotterdam.

In effect, so far only one conclusion can be drawn from the outcome of the referendum: that a majority of the British voters wish to leave the EU. However, it is still entirely unclear how exactly this exit will be organised. Will the EU and the UK immediately enter into some kind of free trade agreement? How quickly will the markets adjust? Or will we even be seeing a new referendum, or a new decision taken by a new government? As long as we are faced with this kind of uncertainty, we should keep our heads cool and not make any hasty decisions. Whatever the case may be, the port of Rotterdam will be standing by to facilitate trade with the United Kingdom. Whether or not they’re an EU member.

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