UK ports seize freeports opportunity

Rishi Sunak Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP visited ABP's Port of Southampton. Image: ABP

UK port organisations have welcomed the launch of a 10-week consultation by the government which aims to establish up to 10 new freeports across the UK.

The government wants to announce the location of the new zones at the end of this year so they can be open for business in 2021, in the wake of the UK leaving the EU. The consultation is due to run until 20 April 2020, following which the Government will invite sea, air and rail ports to bid for Freeport status on a competitive basis.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, said: “Freeports will unleash the potential in our proud historic ports, boosting and regenerating communities across the UK as we level up. They will attract new businesses, spreading jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities up and down the country.”

Mr Sunak visited ABP’s Port of Southampton to discuss the role ABP’s ports could play in delivering the policy. ABP said it has been a strong supporter of freeports since the publication of Mr Sunak’s paper ‘The Free Ports Opportunity’ in 2016.

The Port of Dover and Port of Tyne said they welcomed the consultation. The Port of Tyne has been championing a ‘virtual freeport’, connected and secure using supply chain technology and harnessing best practice from the USA and China where these zones are operational.

PD Ports said Teesport bosses have lobbied hard in recent years to highlight the potential benefits of Free Ports in supporting future trade growth.

Benefits of becoming a freeport could include goods brought into a freeport not attracting tariffs until they leave the freeport and enter the domestic market; no duty payable if they are re-exported; and when raw materials are imported and processed into a final good, duties are only paid on the final good.

The government said freeports will also offer opportunity for cutting-edge customs, transport and green technologies to be trialled in controlled environments, before being adopted more widely in relevant sectors of the economy.

In October 2018, the European Parliament published a study into ‘Money laundering and tax evasion risks in free ports’. According to The Guardian, the European Commission introduced new rules governing freeports on 10 January, as a result of the “high incidence of corruption, tax evasion, criminal activity”.


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