The government has said it will establish up to 10 freeports across the UK after Brexit, where firms will be able to import goods without paying import duties.
The international trade secretary Liz Truss, appointed by prime minister Boris Johnson in his cabinet reshuffle last week, has today named an advisory panel who will help to decide where the ports should be created.
As well as ministers from both the Department for International Trade and the Treasury, they include Daniel Korski, a former special adviser to prime minister David Cameron, and economists Meredith Crowley, a trade expert from the University of Cambridge, and Henry Overman, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics.
The panel also includes two advisors from right-leaning think tanks: Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, and Tom Clougherty, head of tax at the Centre for Policy Studies.
Truss said that the more details on how ports and airports across the country will be able to bid for freeport status will be announced soon. She indicated that the model would include customs and tax benefits designed to mirror the development corporations in areas such as the London Docklands in the 1980s. They could also be free of UK regulations if the goods do not enter the UK economy but instead are re-exported, which Truss said would help manufacturing firms to import the materials they need and create or return jobs to the UK.
“Freedoms transformed London’s Docklands in the 1980s, and freeports will do the same for towns and cities across the UK. They will onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs,” she said.
“We will have a truly independent trade policy after we leave the EU on October 31. I look forward to working with the freeports advisory panel to create the world’s most advanced freeport model and launch the new ports as soon as possible.”
The government pointed to the use of freeports around the world, including in the United States where there are over 250 free-trade zones, employing 420,000 people, as examples of where the idea has worked.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak added: "We are exploring freeports as an innovative way to drive growth and support thousands of high-skilled jobs across the UK.
“We will focus on those areas that could benefit the most, as we look to boost investment and opportunity for communities across the country.”
However, freeports have been criticised as a route for tax evasion. Responding to Truss’s announcement, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the plans “will have money launderers and tax dodgers rubbing their hands with glee”.
He said: “Freeports and free enterprise zones risk companies shutting up shop in one part of the country in order to exploit tax breaks elsewhere, and, worst of all, lower employment rights.”
The full list of freeports advisory panel members is:
- Tim Morris, CEO of UK Major Ports Group
- Dr. Meredith Crowley, trade economist, University of Cambridge
- Henry Overman, professor of economic geography, London School of Economics
- Dan Korski, CBE, founder, Public and former David Cameron special adviser
- Dr Eamonn Butler, director, Adam Smith Institute
- Tom Clougherty, head of tax, Centre for Policy Studies
- Emma Jones, MBE, Enterprise Nation Founder
- Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor