UK '˜should take Brexit chance for free ports'

Brexit could boost British ports, improving growth and creating up to 86,0000 jobs, with appropriate investment, according to a report by a leading think tank.

In a Centre for Policy Studies report, The Free Ports Opportunity, Richmond MP Rishi Sunak argues Britain’s membership of the EU has held back growth and that the creation of “free ports” would be a huge opportunity for trade.

Free ports are areas that, although inside the geographic boundary of a country, are considered outside the country for customs purposes.

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This means that goods can enter and re-exit the port without incurring usual import procedures or tariffs – incentivising domestic manufacturing.

Mr Sunak makes the case that free ports are already successful in the US and would “provide a fast response to Brexit that would increase manufacturing output, reinvigorate the North, and promote trade”.

He said: “Upon leaving the EU, Britain will find itself with more opportunities for economic innovation than at any time in almost 50 years.

“As the date of our departure draws closer, it will be the responsibility of Government to ensure Britain is not timid in seizing those opportunities.

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“Foreign Trade Zones are flourishing all around the world – except in the EU. Post-Brexit they could play an important role in signalling Britain’s openness to the world, as well as reconnecting the nation with its proud maritime history.”

In the report, he suggests that free port jobs would mainly be created in areas outside London where economic need is higher.

He said EU Customs Union and EU State Aid laws currently made free ports almost impossible in the UK.

The report makes the case that free ports could create more 86,000 jobs for the British economy if they were as successful as those in the United States.

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In the report, he writes: “Not only are ports widely distributed across the country, but the North of England punches well above its weight in the sector.

“A free ports programme would disproportionately benefit the North and help make a reality of aspirations to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

James Cooper, chief executive of Associated British Ports, the UK’s largest port owner, said: “Ports are key to the nation’s trade and many offer ideal locations for new manufacturing.

“They should be front and centre of an industrial strategy to boost exports and re-balance the economy.”

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“This report is an example of the creative and ambitious thinking that should underpin such a strategy, maximising the potential of our ports to promote export-led growth and helping forge a prosperous future post-Brexit.”

The Centre for Policy Studies was established by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher and promotes policies for lower tax, smaller government and competitive markets.

Comment: Page 12.