Last reviewed 13 September 2021

The UK’s second quarter (Q2) 2021 port freight statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) indicate positive signs of economic recovery despite ongoing pandemic impacts and new post-Brexit processes affecting UK-EU traffic.

As promising as the figures are, however, they do not indicate a return to “normal” levels, as they are measured against Q2 2020, when the grip of the pandemic was at its worst.

When comparing April–June 2021 with this period in 2020 through UK ports, total freight tonnage increased by 13% to 110.7 million tonnes and inward traffic saw 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%.

Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy Manager and Economic Analyst at the British Ports Association (BPA), said: “There are positives to be drawn from today’s publication of the 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, she went on, the enduring theme of the last 18 months has been volatility and this latest release is no exception.

The only decrease in volumes seen in Q2 of this year (compared to 2020) — the 2% fall in outward tonnage, is difficult to diagnose, the BPA said, and could be due to several current issues affecting the economy and supply chains.