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Ports urge rethink on Freeport plans – updated

[ July 13, 2020   //   ]

The cap of 10 on the total number of freeports allowed after Brext risks limiting the benefits, warns the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) in its response to the Government’s consultation. It said that it would be far better if the Government “was guided by the number of compelling proposals rather than an arbitrary limit.”

Focusing major advantages on a small number of locations and casting aside ‘the rest’ risks make a difficult situation worse for a lot of communities.

The Government also needs to be clearer in its priority for freeports strategy, said chief executive Tim Morris. He explained: “Headline goals of creating national hubs for global trade and promoting regeneration and job creation are sensible. They are also linked. A strong underlying trading hub and a business-led approach with strong local support give the best chance of sustainable job creation both locally and nationally. History teaches us that solely ‘build it and they will come’ approaches have resulted in missed potential.”

UKMPG said that while the UK has been able to establish freeports as an EU member- it had seven between 1984 and 2012 – and could already tweak duty rules, there is now an opportunity to take a step change, harnessing the potential of a full package of measures including, but certainly not limited to, duty treatment.

Success depends on more than just adjusting tariffs, says UKMPG. The‘toolbox’ should include more agility to update use of locations and streamlined planning rules, high capacity road, rail, energy and data links, expedited import and export processes, provision of advice for approving the movement and storage of goods for import and export, incentives such as grants and property tax benefits and accounting treatments such as capital allowances and aligning local sources of talent and innovation such as universities, further education colleges, incubators and accelerators with the freeport.

The Freight Transport Association said the plan had the potential to unlock opportunities for international trade, but urged the government to provide more details. This would be vital to addressing any potential issues with fairness and competition, planning processes, friction with Northern Ireland Protocol, custom processes and investment into infrastructure.

It also asked that it considers a multi-site concept, or virtual Freeport zones, to account for businesses and industries that do not already operate in the direct vicinity of a port, airport or railway terminal; this would provide a corridor of opportunity for multiple industries.

It added: “While Freeports may play an important role in devolved regions, FTA does have some concerns over the compatibility of Freeports with the Northern Ireland Protocol. If a Freeport is considered in NI it may present a conflict with EU level playing field rules.  As such, we would welcome additional clarity on the operational and legal capacity and benefits that a Freeport could deliver in NI, in comparison to a Freeport in Great Britain, which can be treated under UK unilateral rules.”

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