THE Port of Liverpool believes it could double the amount of imports it currently handles if a new East-West trade route becomes established.
The E20 route could also provide a huge boost for small businesses in the 20 cities it passes through, said Stephen Carr, head of business development for Peel Ports Mersey which includes the Ports of Liverpool and Heysham, near Lancaster.
E20 is a privately-funded United Nations Economic Commission for Europe initiative that proposes to develop a 3,025-mile trade route from St Petersburg in Russia to Limerick, on the west coast of Ireland.
The route takes in 20 major cities and trading centres in countries including Estonia, Sweden, and Denmark, and starting in Hull on the east coast of the UK, taking in towns and cities along the M62, including Warrington, to Liverpool, then on to Dublin and Limerick.
E20 is in its infancy, but the first conference promoting the idea in the UK was held at Hull University earlier this month, attended by Peel Ports.
Delegates included Estonian civic and commercial business leaders from the Estonian Purchasing and Supply Chain Management Association and the Estonian Logistics Cluster.
They had earlier toured Hull’s docks as part of their fact-finding mission and there are plans for a similar visit to Liverpool.
Mr Carr, who attended the conference, said: “As an organisation E20 is still in its infancy, but anything we can do that supports growth of ports in the northern part of the UK has to be welcomed. We see it as something that is of importance to the Port of Liverpool.”
He added: “It is a bit early to say, but the idea is an interesting one.
“We have already been talking to businesses in and around the port, and organisations in Ireland and the Northern half of the UK.”
The concept may be unproven so far, but Mr Carr believes it could be developed to provide significant business potential for the port and the city.
Liverpool currently handles about 7% of UK ports’ input. He said: “It is not unreasonable to think 15% could come through, if people used the port closest to the origin and destination of cargo.
“E20 can help us to tap into that market and raise the profile of Northern ports.”
Ideally, E20 could help persuade business and logistics firms to use more Northerly ports rather than the London ports of entry, and at the same time cut millions of road and rail miles out of the equation.
Mr Carr said: “We want to reduce road traffic to the Southern ports.
“If you look West, we are the dominant port of entry between Britain and Ireland with more than 50% (of cargoes) between Liverpool and Heysham.
“E20 is looking at how the whole corridor can be used effectively and move some trade from the South. We can cut 150m road and rail miles to the South East. It is a big burden on industry.”
He said the Hull conference was important to network and identify who is involved in the E20 scheme and to gauge, over the coming months, how it can be developed.
“There are a number of organisations trying to do the same thing, so we are looking to see how we can support as many of them as we can.”
Mr Carr added: “The main thing is to get as many businesses around the North West using the port.
He also believes the route could flourish on the back of the port’s planned £300m Liverpool2 expansion of its container facilities at Seaforth to handle the biggest container ships in the world.
“We could get the containers coming in through Felixstowe and Southampton to come in via Liverpool, and then maybe have a rail service from Liverpool to Hull.
“Liverpool could be a gateway for Yorkshire from the West.”
Martin Venning, the Leeds-based UK co-ordinator for E20, has established contact with business organisations in the city who are now discussing who takes the leading role.
He said: “There are a number of organisations in the city who have an interest in seeing E20 work well and there are discussions about who takes the lead. The flavour of contacts I have had in Liverpool have been extremely positive.”
He added: “We are confident one of the key outcomes of this will be a vehicle for increasing trade for the UK with Russia.
“The Government is telling everyone to get out and export, but a lot of people are worried about the risk profile of exporting. But as we get more parties involved we are cutting the risks.”
Welcoming the port’s interest he said: “The success of the port is the yardstick that demonstrates what can be done. If we can hook up with Russia the potential for transhipment for the port is really good.
“Hull and Liverpool have pivotal roles in this.”