Industry backs free ports to kickstart growth

Port of Teesport Teesport could become one of 10 free ports across the UK. Image: PD Ports

UK ports and industry bodies have said the government’s free ports initiative could invigorate the economy and support sustainable development.

The operator of one of the UK ports identified as being a potential free port post-Brexit has said realisation of this would be an opportunity to stimulate manufacturing and create jobs.

PD Ports, which operates the Port of Teesport said that it supported the idea of free ports or free trade zones and believed they can benefit the UK, as the UK government has announced there will be up to 10 free ports across the UK and a new Freeports Advisory Panel to advise the government on establishing these.

“We are working closely with Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen on the potential for Free Trade Zones or Free Ports,” said PD Ports. Teesport was picked out to develop as a free port earlier this year by the then Prime Minister contender Boris Johnson, who later selected Aberdeen and Peterhead as candidates for the initiative.

PD Ports added: “We are fully supportive of this and believe there are some real tangible benefits that will bring value to UK PLC and help to galvanise the Tees Valley region. For us this is an opportunity to stimulate manufacturing and create jobs with skills sets that are in abundance here.”

It added that the port has the potential and capacity for development to economically prosper from free port status. For example, the port is adjacent to 4500 acres of brownfield industrial land which could be more quickly utilised if it was a free port.

The Port of Tyne said it is an advocate of Free Ports, believing that they present the best compromise arrangement if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and benefit manufacturers in the North East of England seeking to attract new investment with quick routes to global markets.

“We strongly believe a Free Port covering the region’s advanced manufacturing cluster and key transport nodes like the Port of Tyne has the potential to supercharge regional growth by unlocking post-Brexit opportunities in new and existing supply chains,” said the Port of Tyne.

Both the British Ports Association (BPA) and the UK Major Ports Association (UKMPG) said they supported the government’s initiative but the BPA said free ports should be industry-led. It said it would work with the government to establish “how a UK-specific model can boost sustainable development in and around ports and add real value”.

Free port sites could be transformational for some locations, but care needs to be taken to ensure that “ports which don’t have status are not disadvantaged”, stressed the BPA.

As the path of the UK remains undecided, with no approved Brexit withdrawal agreement and no decision on whether the UK will remain in the EU single market, leave but sign a trade deal or strike out alone, the European Commission has made damning verdict that free ports are "potentially vulnerable to money laundering or terrorism financing in the internal market" in its Supranational Risk Assessment Report, published last month.

If free ports were to be set up in the UK, it may be more difficult to strike a trade deal and retain access to EU markets, but the EU would not be able to challenge a free port initiative post-Brexit.

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