A government minister visited Southampton to launch plans for “freeports” – areas which would be sheltered from tariffs in the wake of Brexit.
The idea is being proposed in a bid to create jobs by promoting international trade after Britain’s departure from the European Union takes full effect at the end of this year.
Freeports are areas where no duty will be paid on goods until they enter the full UK market – so that no tariffs are paid if the items are exported straight away.
The chief secretary to the treasury, Rishi Sunak, was at the Port of Southampton to launch the government’s 10-week consultation on the idea.
After that, applications will be invited from areas interested in becoming freeports.
Mr Sunak said: “Visiting the great port of Southampton brought home to me why our mission to boost every part of the UK is so crucial. Freeports will unleash the potential in our proud historic ports, boosting and regenerating communities across the UK. They will attract new businesses, spreading jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities up and down the country.
“This is all part of being an open, outward-looking country, championing global free trade with vibrant freeports that work for all of the UK. I urge Southampton and other all ports across the country to start preparing their Freeport applications, ready for the competitive process which will follow our 10-week consultation.”
Mr Sunak met bosses from port operator ABP to discuss the role its ports could play in the policy.
Several ABP ports offer large areas of development land close to deep water, making for efficient import of raw materials and components and the export of finished products. The company believes the freeport proposals could enhance these advantages.
The government says freeports will come with measures to reduce the cost of hiring staff.
ABP has supported the freeports idea since Mr Sunak published a paper on it in 2016, the year of the EU referendum.
ABP chief commercial officer Julian Walker said: “ABP welcomes the government’s announcement of a consultation on developing freeports. We believe that freeports can increase the ability of ports to drive trade and economic growth by boosting the UK’s manufacturing base and exports. Our ports in Southampton, on the Humber and in South Wales offer ideal locations for port-centric manufacturing and this policy can help turn this ambition into reality.”
The consultation runs until April 20.
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