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British Ports Association welcomes Freeports Consultation

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Dry Bulk,

The British Ports Association (BPA) has welcomed the publication of a new consultation on the introduction of free ports, which have the potential to transform coastal communities and unleash ‘port-centric‘ growth.

The BPA is part of the government’s Freeport Advisory Panel, which is advising on options for its introduction in the UK. In 2019, the BPA published a report outlining a set of proposals in 'A Licence to Operate: Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones.‘

The report calls for freeport status to include a package of measures to support growth in coastal communities around development, consenting and enterprise. The report was written in collaboration with a number of ports and airport operators.

The BPA is now calling for Ministers to maximise ambitions and remove the cap on a potential number of freeports, and include a much broader package of measures that would benefit a wide range of different UK ports.

The UK has 125 cargo-handling ports. Freeport status would benefit ports differently depending on their current traffic/business profile and specialisation. Some will naturally be more interested than others, but there will be more than 10 of these that will want to benefit, and the government should not place an arbitrary cap on this ambition.

Commenting on the consultation, Richard Ballantyne, CEO of the BPA, said: "Freeports are a transformational opportunity for some UK ports that could unleash growth and development in some of the UK’s most deprived coastal areas. The BPA will be making the case for a package of maximum ambition in both scope and scale.

Ports handle 95% of the UK’s trade, and the association will be putting forward a set of measures that support a variety of models to fit different ports and the industries that rely on them.“

Freeports will not solve issues around new 'frictions‘ that will be introduced at certain gateway ports at the end of the Brexit transition period. The BPA will continue to call for a strong trade agreement with the EU that priorities minimising the erection of new non-tariff trade barriers.

What is a 'free port'?

Traditionally, a freeport is an area outside of a country’s customs territory but within its physical borders, sometimes known as a 'free zone.‘ This allows certain goods to be transhipped or processed through a port without attracting customs duties. This means that components could be added to a product and re-exported without generating additional prohibitive costs.

If the UK ends up striking a low-alignment trade deal with EU (or if a deal is not agreed at all), free ports may help alleviate costs burdens that may be placed on some industries that have cross-border supply chains.

The BPA believes that a UK freeport model should be wider than the traditional ‚customs‘ free zone model, of which many of the benefits can be achieved through existing processes.

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