Hartlepool and Teesside in line for free port in drive to create 'thousands of jobs' after Brexit
Post-Brexit free ports will create "thousands of jobs" as part of the UK's future trade arrangements, the International Trade Secretary has claimed – with Tees Valley already identified as a potential candidate.
Ahead of a visit to Teeside, Liz Truss said the Government plans to create "the world's most advanced free port model" as soon as possible.
Free ports are areas inside the UK geographically, but legally outside of the UK customs territory.
Once the UK leaves the EU, seaports and airports across the UK will be invited to bid to become one of up to 10 free ports with the aspiration of increasing trade with new markets across the world.
Ms Truss said free ports would use onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the "gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs".
"We will have a truly independent trade policy after we leave the EU on October 31," she added.
However, Labour said free ports represent "a race to the bottom that will have money launderers and tax dodgers rubbing their hands with glee".
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner 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 British people did not vote for this new administration and they certainly did not vote to see their jobs and livelihoods threatened in favour of gifting further tax breaks to big companies and their bosses."
In his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson said free ports would provide thousands of jobs for people in "left-behind areas".
During the Tory leadership campaign, Mr Johnson pledged to create "about six" free ports.
The new Brexit-supporting Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak wrote a paper in November 2016 on free ports for the Centre for Policy Studies think tank - which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher.
In the document, Mr Sunak wrote: "Goods can be imported, manufactured or re-exported inside the Free Trade Zone without incurring domestic customs duties or taxes.
"These are only paid - often at reduced rates - on goods entering the domestic economy."
Today, Mr Sunak said: "We are exploring free ports 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."
The Department for International Trade will also launch a Free Ports Advisory Panel which will include ministers from the Department for International Trade and the Treasury.
Panellists include David Cameron's former special adviser Daniel Korski, who last year wrote in an article for City AM that a no-deal Brexit would be "disastrous" for technology firms.
Also on the panel is small business champion Emma Jones, who coordinated an open letter alongside 68 other business owners which warned that no deal would be a "disaster" for small companies.
The panel also includes Tom Clougherty, head of tax at the Centre for Policy Studies, and Eamonn Butler, co-founder and director of the free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute.
The Government cites the enterprise zone status granted to London's Docklands in the 1980s - which helped to regenerate the former port into a financial district - as its ambition for the new free ports.
The United States has over 250 free trade zones, employing 420,000 people.
An example of one such port is in Miami, which sees over 7 million tons of cargo pass through its port every year and firms within the zone can import, warehouse and re-export products duty-free.