William Eichler 02 August 2019

Free-trade zones to ‘turbocharge’ investment, Whitehall claims

The Government has invited ports and airports across the UK to bid to become one of 10 new free trade areas in a move it argues will boost post-Brexit trade.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss will today announce a new Freeports Advisory Panel to advise Whitehall on the establishment of free-trade areas offering customs and tax benefits aimed at attracting investment.

Ms Truss will say that Freeport status ‘transformed’ London’s Docklands in the 1980s and will do the same today in the event that the UK leaves the European Union on 31 October.

‘Freedoms transformed London’s Docklands in the 1980s, and Freeports will do the same for towns and cities across the UK,’ she will say.

‘They will onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs.’

‘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,’ she added.

Ms Truss will argue that the creation of Freeports would be the sign of a trade policy ‘truly independent’ from the EU.

A report from the European Commission published last month stated that Freeports were ‘lawful’ within the union so long as they respected EU state aid rules and the Code of Conduct on business taxation.

It warned, however, that free-trade zones run the risk of encouraging counterfeiting.

‘Free-trade zones may pose a risk as regards counterfeiting, as they allow counterfeiters to land consignments, adapt or otherwise tamper with loads or associated paperwork, and then re-export products without customs intervention, and thus to disguise the nature and original supplier of the goods,’ the report reads.

It also linked them to ‘VAT fraud, corruption and money laundering.’

The Government has appointed Tom Clougherty, the head of tax at the think tank Centre for Policy Studies, to be on the panel.

‘I'm delighted to have been appointed to the Freeports Advisory Panel. Freeports offer a proven way to boost trade, investment, and regional development,’ Mr Clougherty said.

‘The Government wants to capitalize on the economic opportunities presented by Brexit to reinvigorate Britain’s regions, and this is a great place to start.’

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