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Post-Brexit opportunities for UK shipping

Post-Brexit opportunities for UK shipping
The adverse effects of Brexit on the international shipping industry could turn out to be “not very much”, according to Harry Theochari, global head of transport for law firm Norton Rose Fulbright (NFB), which hosted a half-day conference entitled “Shipping in times of Brexit – business opportunities with less regulation?” at its London headquarters this week.

Neither the rights of UK shipping to call EU ports nor that of EU ships to call UK ports would be impeded by Britain leaving the European Union, Theochari pointed out. Rather the real change will be in respect of “taxes, duties and tariffs,” he said, depending on the UK’s exact exit scenario.

As regards any change to the availability of ship finance and related services in the UK, again Theochari said he thought the effect would be minimal with most banks and insurance companies still able to provide cross-border services via overseas subsidiaries. Few institutions would choose to quit London, he believed, because of the city’s centuries-old maritime tradition and leading expertise in areas such as ship brokerage, law, accounting, insurance and maritime education.

Possible opportunities resulting from Brexit would include the fact that “for the first time in a generation the country would be able to negotiate its own trade agreements outside the constraints of EU State Aid restrictions,” he continued.

Also there would be the opportunity to review the UK’s Tonnage Tax regime, he added, which is currently “not the best in the world” and could do with revamping to attract more owner/operators.

However, NFB’s Brussels-based partner Michael Jürgen Werner cautioned that any new UK assistance to the maritime sector would need to comply with international trade law and with EU anti-dumping rules, and would only be possible in the event of a “hard” exit where the UK eschewed the Norwegian (EEA, EFTA membership) or Swiss (EFTA only) models, leaving itself without access to the Single Market and reliant on WTO trade tariffs.

Already moves are afoot to upgrade the UK Ship Register to make it more responsive and client focused, informed Doug Barrow, chief executive of professional services’ body Maritime London, which co-organised the seminar. This will include greater delegation of inspections to Recognised Organisations in the form of leading classification societies, and appointment of a new commercial team, he said.