“It still works on its own,” said Alex Veitch, managing director for public policy at Logistics UK, a trading group.
The problem in Britain was compounded by a large shipment of medical masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment ordered for the National Health Service and, temporarily, left in Felixstowe in warehouse. At the end of November, the port operator said it was working with the government to clean the mountain of shipping containers, some of which have been moved to old airfields. The port had also hired staff and extended its hours of operation to ease congestion.
Felixstowe had filed a complaint before the pandemic. It is one of the least efficient container ports in the world, according to data from IHS Markit. It has struggled to cope with the growth in international trade and larger ships carrying more containers. It takes twice as long to move a container on or off a ship in Felixstowe as it does in some of China’s busiest ports, according to data from IHS Markit.
Since Felixstowe and other deep-water ports primarily handle trade from Asia, these delays are not the same as what is expected to happen in the New Year, when Britain secedes its biggest business partner.
From January 1, Britain’s trade relations with the European Union will change and customs controls and, possibly, tariffs will be introduced. While a trade deal is still being negotiated, border processes will change regardless. For the first time, hundreds of thousands of businesses will have to perform customs checks and other new trade requirements.
The government has warned businesses to prepare, but business groups say some businesses have been too busy dealing with the fallout from the pandemic. Mr Ward said importers and exporters were less prepared, even though warehouses and carriers did what they could.
The critical point will likely be on the south coast, at Dover or Folkestone, the busiest places for the transport of goods between Great Britain and the European Union, either on trucks carried across the Channel on ferries or on trains through the Channel Tunnel.