Channel ferry operators in battle over French port tax

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The Independent Online
THE CHANNEL ferry companies stepped up their propaganda war with Eurotunnel yesterday by revealing a little known 50-year-old French port tax which adds pounds 20 to the cost of a family holiday for five.

The taxe uniforme is imposed on all passengers arriving or leaving France by sea, but will not be levied on passengers arriving from beneath it. Ferry companies argue that they should have the same cost structure as Eurotunnel when competition begins in earnest, and either both should pay the tax or it should be abolished. Although the amounts are fairly small, the margins of both operators are likely to be squeezed so much that even a few pounds will be important.

The tax, which costs pounds 2.09 per passenger entering or leaving any French port, and spending more than 72 hours in the country, has its origins in the need to rebuild the harbours and buildings devastated by the Second World War. The money is paid to the French exchequer, which then returns around three-quarters to the ports, a spokesman for one of the large ferry companies, Stena Sealink, said last night.

The tax dwarfs the taxes paid directly to port operators to cover their running costs. Dover, for example, levies a charge of 67p per passenger, and Calais a tax of 34p each. Ferry companies have been provoked into attacking the taxe uniforme by Eurotunnel's attempts to have duty-free shopping, which is attractive to ferry passengers, reviewed in the High Court.