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BPA to conduct major review of port transport and infrastructure connectivity

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BPA to conduct major review of port transport and infrastructure connectivity. Image: Pixabay
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The British Ports Association is today launching a major new review of UK port connectivity. This work will highlight to government and local authorities where post-Coronavirus investment in infrastructure can be concentrated in order to maximise economic growth and speed up the recovery. This will look at infrastructure outside of ports such as road and rail links but also broadening out to assess energy and digital capabilities.

The BPA is inviting ports to submit an inventory of required external improvements to connectivity infrastructure. This will be used to examine the progress made since the Department for Transport’s English Port Connectivity Study two years ago; broadening this out to all ports around the UK, as well as looking at digital connectivity, energy capacity, in addition to transport needs.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the resilience of the UK supply chain – as ports worked efficiently through the pandemic and kept the nation supplied, despite the economic downturn taking a toll on the sector, as it did with many others. However, now more than ever, it is critical to consider where government investment can be targeted to unlock growth and provide a boost to the economy. The BPA will be laying out the inventory of works before government to show how we can build a Britain stronger than ever before.

UK ports are commercially managed, operating strategically and financially independent of Government. With very few exceptions, UK port infrastructure investments are privately financed; investments are market-led and £1.7bn is currently in the pipeline around the UK. Ports ask for very little from the Government but do rely on public investment in external infrastructure to stay competitive.

Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy and Economic Analyst at the British Ports Association, who is leading the Review, said;

“At a time when the government needs to stimulate significant growth to rebuild from the economic crisis, the decision to invest in infrastructure is straight forward. Infrastructure investment of 1% of GDP has a multiplier effect which can lead to an increase of 2.6% in GDP over four years.

Studies have shown that if the UK fails to bring infrastructure up to the standard of other developed economies, this could create an annual loss to the economy of £90 billion by 2026; so, in reality, the UK cannot afford not to invest in infrastructure.

The BPA has previously welcomed the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda, but now we ask that they consider how to bring ports into this, especially given their economic significance in coastal communities.

We are inviting ports to send us an inventory of required public infrastructure improvements and upgrades, so we can highlight to the government where investment should be focused. These upgrades can relate to transport and digital connectivity, as well as other infrastructure requirements, such as increasing energy capacity in local networks, which will be key to facilitating Britain’s transition to net-zero by 2050.”

Hinterland transport links in particular is fundamental for the movement of goods and passengers. The UK’s motorway and trunk roads networks are managed by the various parts of central Government around the country, while local roads are owed and funded by local authorities. These last mile connections are often essential to ports but not always treated in a strategic way. Improved and increased rail access to the national network is also sought by many in the ports sector.

As the country moves towards net zero, electrification of infrastructure is becoming essential and separately as ports embrace the smart and invocation agendas they will need to be better better connected digitally.

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Retail imports to see lowest annual total in four years

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Retail imports to see lowest annual total in four years. Image: Pixabay
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Imports at major U.S. retail container ports during 2020 are expected to see their lowest total in four years as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy continues, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“The economy is recovering but retailers are being careful not to import more than they can sell,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “Shelves will be stocked, but this is not the year to be left with warehouses full of unsold merchandise. The more Congress does to put spending money in consumers’ pockets and provide businesses with liquidity, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.61 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units in June, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was up 4.9 percent from May but down 10.5 percent year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

July was estimated at 1.76 million TEU, down 10.2 percent year-over-year. August is forecast at 1.81 million TEU, down 7.3 percent; September at 1.69 million TEU, down 9.5 percent; October also at 1.69 million TEU, down 10.4 percent; November at 1.59 million TEU, down 5.8 percent, and December at 1.56 million TEU, down 9.6 percent.

Those numbers would bring 2020 to a total of 19.6 million TEU, a drop of 9.4 percent from last year and the lowest annual total since 19.1 million TEU in 2016. The first half of 2020 totaled 9.5 million TEU, down 10.1 percent from last year.

August is expected to be the busiest month of the July-October “peak season” when retailers rush to bring in merchandise for the winter holidays. But with retailers ordering less merchandise, the month’s total would be the lowest peak for the season since 1.73 million TEU in 2016 and falls far short of the 1.96 million TEU peak in 2019. Peak season usually includes the busiest month of the entire year, but this year that was likely January’s 1.82 million TEU.

“This year, peak season seems to have been thrown off by the coronavirus pandemic along with just about everything else we consider normal,” Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said. “We’ve probably already had our busiest month. And with the pandemic taking a hit on the economy ever since then, peak season is likely to be a disappointment by comparison.”

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Indian government permits exports of ventilators

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The Group of Ministers on COVID-19 has considered and agreed to the proposal of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare allowing the export of made-in-India ventilators. This decision has been communicated to the Director General of Foreign Trade for further needed action to facilitate the export of indigenously manufactured ventilators.

This significant decision comes on the heels of India continuing to maintain a progressively declining low rate of case fatality of COVID-19 patients, which currently stands at 2.15%, which means that fewer numbers of active cases are on ventilators.

As on 31st July 2020, only 0.22% of the active cases were on ventilators across the country. Additionally, there has been substantial growth in the domestic manufacturing capacity of ventilators. Compared to January 2020, there are presently more than 20 domestic manufacturers for ventilators.

The export prohibition/restriction on ventilators was imposed in March 2020 to ensure domestic availability to effectively fight COVID-19. All types of ventilators were prohibited for export. Now with export of ventilators having been allowed, it is hoped that domestic ventilators would be in a position to find new markets for Indian ventilators in foreign countries.

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EU-Vietnam trade agreement enters into force

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EU-Vietnam trade agreement enters into force. Image: Pixabay
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EU exports to Vietnam will be taxed less as of tomorrow, 1 August. This is the immediate effect of the entry into force of the EU-Vietnam trade agreement that will ultimately scrap duties on 99% of all goods traded between the two sides.

Doing business in Vietnam will also become easier for European companies: they will now be able to invest and pitch for government contracts with equal chances to their local competitors.

Under the new agreement, the economic benefits go hand in hand with guarantees of respect for labour rights, environment protection and the Paris Agreement on climate, through strong, legally binding and enforceable provisions on sustainable development.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The European economy needs now every opportunity to restore its strength after the crisis triggered by the coronavirus. Trade agreements, such as the one becoming effective with Vietnam today, offer our companies a chance to access new emerging markets and create jobs for Europeans. I strongly believe this agreement will also become an opportunity for people of Vietnam to enjoy a more prosperous economy and witness a positive change and stronger rights as workers and citizens in their home country.”

Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, commented: “Vietnam is now part of a club of 77 countries doing trade with the EU under bilaterally agreed preferential conditions.  The agreement strengthens EU economic links with the dynamic region of South-East Asia and has an important economic potential that will contribute to the recovery after the coronavirus crisis. But it also shows how trade policy can be a force for good. Vietnam has already made a lot of effort to improve its labour rights record thanks to our trade talks and, I trust, will continue its most needed reforms.”

The EU-Vietnam agreement is the most comprehensive trade agreement the EU has concluded with a developing country. It takes fully into account Vietnam’s development needs by giving Vietnam a longer, 10-year period to eliminate its duties on EU imports.

However, many important EU export products, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals or machinery will already enjoy duty free import conditions as of entry into force.

Agri-food products like beef or olive oil will face no tariffs in three years, while dairy, fruit and vegetables in maximum five years. Comprehensive provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary cooperation will allow for improving market access for EU firms via more transparent and quick procedures.

It also contains specific provisions to address regulatory barriers for EU car exports and grants protection from imitation for 169 traditional European food and drink products (like Roquefort cheese, Porto and Jerez wines, Irish Cream spirit or Prosciutto di Parma ham) recognised as Geographical Indications.

At the same time, the trade agreement expresses a strong commitment of both sides to environment and social rights. It sets high standards of labour, environmental and consumer protection and ensures that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ to promote trade or attract investment.

Under the agreement, the two parties have committed to ratify and implement the eight fundamental Conventions of International Labour Organization, and respect, promote and effectively implement the principles of the ILO concerning fundamental rights at work; implement the Paris Agreement, as well as other international environmental agreements, and act in favour of the conservation and sustainable management of wildlife, biodiversity, forestry and fisheries; and involve independent civil society in monitoring the implementation of these commitments by both sides.

Vietnam has already made progress on these commitments by ratifying in June 2019 ILO Convention 98 on collective bargaining and in June 2020 ILO Convention 105 on forced labour. It also adopted a revised Labour Code in November 2019 and confirmed that it would ratify the one remaining fundamental ILO Convention on freedom of association* by 2023.

The trade agreement also includes an institutional and legal link to the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, allowing appropriate action in the case of serious breaches of human rights.

The entry into force of the trade agreement has been preceded by its approval by EU Member States in the Council and its signature in June 2019, and the European Parliament’s approval in February 2020.

Background

Vietnam is the EU’s second largest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Singapore, with trade in goods worth €45.5 billion in 2019  and trade in services of some €4 billion (2018).

The EU’s main exports to Vietnam are high-tech products, including electrical machinery and equipment, aircrafts, vehicles, and pharmaceutical products. Vietnam’s main exports to the EU are electronic products, footwear, textiles and clothing, as well as coffee, rice, seafood, and furniture.

With a total foreign direct investment stock of €7.4 billion (2018), the EU is one of the largest foreign investors in Vietnam. Most EU investments are in industrial processing and manufacturing.

The agreement with Vietnam is the second trade agreement the EU has concluded with an ASEAN member state, following the recent agreement with Singapore. It represents an important milestone in the EU’s engagement with Asia, adding to the already existing agreements with Japan and Republic of Korea.

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