Harbouring a world-class industry



Andrew Webster, International Business Specialist for Ports, UK Trade & Investment, UK


The UK ports industry, by virtue of the country’s long coastline and distinguished maritime history, is the largest in Europe. Its scale and diversity are truly impressive; the UK boasts many of the world’s most sophisticated ports, ranging from container ports and terminals for oil, gas and bulk goods, through to passenger facilities for cruise liners and ferries.

UK ports now handle more freight than any other EU country – some 580 million tonnes in 2006, while around 32 million international passengers pass through them every year. As well as facilitating world trade, the UK’s ports are key drivers of the national economy, directly employing some 73,500 people. The transformation of the UK ports industry in recent decades has created a thriving and highly competitive industry, which has resulted in an unprecedented wave of investment and the development of world-class facilities using leading-edge technology. In recent years, the UK has built up a track record, both at home and overseas, in delivering ports-related expertise, in areas such as planning, design, finance, construction and operation. UK companies now offer a wide range of high-quality products and services which can help deliver port projects around the world. For example, UK firms have recently won contracts in China, Greece, India and the United Arab Emirates, covering port design, port security, port planning and financial services. There is no doubt that UK expertise in the ports sector is in high demand across the globe.

Supporting International Trade

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is the Government organisation that helps UK-based companies succeed in international markets. It also helps overseas firms bring high-quality investment to the UK’s vibrant economy – acknowledged as Europe’s best place from which to succeed in global business.

As UK Trade & Investment’s International Business Specialist for Ports, having been seconded from leading insurance and risk management firm Thomas Miller, my role involves providing companies with information about overseas opportunities, discussing their plans to export or establish an overseas operation and assisting them with timely advice to make the right decisions in the right places, at the right time. The UK Government’s use of private-sector expertise to help UK companies to develop their business internationally is a proven model for success.

We work to provide critical support to UK based companies and targeted overseas businesses to fulfil their international ambitions. This is achieved through the excellent worldwide resources available from UK Trade & Investment teams based at British embassies, high commissions and consulates around the globe, the Ports Sector team in London, the nine UK regional offices, as well as private sector advisors like myself. Living and working overseas, in some of the high-growth and emerging markets for the ports industry, has given me indepth understanding and insight into the practical aspects of expanding a business across national boundaries – as well as furnishing me with a long list of all-important contacts to help open doors for businesses.

The figures speak for themselves. A recent independent study showed that for every one pound spent by UK Trade & Investment, a further £20 is generated for the UK economy through overseas business that would not have been achieved without the support provided by the organisation.

Areas of excellence

Port projects from Australia to Asia, the Americas to Africa, and from Europe to the Middle East have all benefited from the UK’s experience, expertise and leading-edge technology in numerous fields, including the following:

Port investment

The UK’s unique experience in the privatisation of its ports means that it has an unprecedented understanding of this strategic area. Formerly state-run ports in the UK are now successful and profitable commercial entities in their own right.

As well as improving operations at these ports, this process has also reduced the burden of capital investment by the government. As more ports around the world experiment with alternative ownership structures, the UK ports industry stands well placed to provide advice on key management areas such as public-private partnerships and on commercial financing.

UK companies can br ing the capital, port equipment, technology and human resources that are needed to deliver firstclass ports. Critically, UK firms are able to look at the potential of the port, its logistics and hinterland development to deliver long-term profitable solutions. They also play a pivotal role in bringing in partners and suppliers to deliver the equipment that is necessary for meeting the technical and environmental requirements of the port, within the capital expenditure budget that has been allocated to it.

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