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Decline in freight volumes passing through Northern Ireland ports

The volume of cargo transiting Northern Ireland's ports decreased from the record highs observed in 2021, according to the latest DfT data.

The total volume passing through Northern Ireland's ports amounted to 27.9 million tonnes in 2022 – a decrease of 5.3% from the 29.5 million tonnes reported in 2021. In contrast, the United Kingdom's overall freight traffic witnessed an increase in 2022, reaching 458.9 million tonnes, compared to 445.7 million tonnes in 2021— an uptick of 3.0%.

Within Northern Ireland, the total tonnage of inward traffic decreased by 4.1%, totalling 16.5 million tonnes, while outward traffic experienced a more significant decline of 7.1%, reaching 11.5 million tonnes in 2022.

Meanwhile, across the entire United Kingdom, inward traffic for 2022 increased by 4.2%, reaching 304.3 million tonnes, and outward traffic rose by 0.6%, totalling 154.7 million tonnes.

Belfast Port (pictured above) retained its position as the primary gateway for Northern Ireland's traffic, handling 65.7% of the total volume. The Port of Larne followed as the second-highest contributor, accounting for 13.2%, while Warrenpoint recorded 11.6%. In the wider UK context, London emerged as the most popular port, handling 12.0% of the total UK port traffic in 2022.

Northern Ireland saw a total of 901,270 road goods vehicles passing through its ports in 2022. This reflects a 5.0% decrease compared to the 948,933 vehicles in 2021. Across the United Kingdom, a total of 6.9 million road goods vehicles traversed ports in 2022, marking a slight 0.8% decrease from the previous year.

A noteworthy trend was observed in non-freight vehicle traffic, with Northern Ireland's ports recording 583,331 such vehicles in 2022. This represents a substantial increase of 9.5% from the 532,611 non-freight vehicles documented in 2021. At the UK level, non-freight vehicle traffic experienced a remarkable surge, with 4.7 million vehicles passing through ports in 2022, marking a huge 93.3% increase from 2021.

The examination of Northern Ireland's trade data is politically charged due to the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework, the post-Brexit trade agreement between the UK and the EU.

While the Windsor Framework enhances Northern Ireland's access to the EU market, it also introduces checks on goods from Great Britain. This has sparked debate among supporters and opponents regarding its impact on trade, with initial data showing increased trade with both Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

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