Freeports are fully operational in the UK for the first time in decades after three sites received final government approval to launch earlier this week.
Plymouth, Solent and Teesside were given the go ahead yesterday (7 December) and each will receive £25m in seed funding for further development.
Liverpool Freeport was also this week designated its first customs site operator, SSO International Forwarding, in another key milestone for the initiative. Customs sites are areas within freeports where certain tax and customs rules are suspended.
Freeports are areas that benefit from a range of measures designed to promote local regeneration, including tariff exemptions and easier planning permissions.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak launched the government’s plans to establish eight English freeports in March 2021, when he was chancellor.
Other freeports waiting government sign-off before becoming fully operational include East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region and Thames.
Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) director general Marco Forgione said it was great news for UK trade that freeports are now getting off the ground.
“We’re delighted to hear about the launches of the Plymouth, Solent and Teesside freeports. The news is a big boost for traders during a time of significant economic uncertainty.
“IOE&IT has backed this initiative from the start and we have worked closely with the freeports. For instance, we supported the launch of the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation in Teesside Freeport. This is just a start though, particularly with further sites to be announced in Scotland and Wales.
“This initiative will ensure trade plays a central role in the economic recoveries of all the regions of the UK. Government, industry and freeport operators now need to work together to raise awareness of the benefits and how businesses can make use of them.
“We will continue to work with all the freeport operators across the UK to ensure more launches can take place as soon as possible in 2023. Indeed, we are delighted that our hands-on support enabled Liverpool Freeport to confirm its first designated customs site operator this week.”
On an IOE&IT webinar poll earlier this year, the majority of traders (72%) said they would like the government to open more freeports.
Simplified customs procedures was voted the most important benefit of freeports by traders on the webinar (38%), followed by tax benefits (27%).
John Lucy, the director of the Liverpool Freeport, told delegates that customs zones were critical to the “longevity” of the new freeports initiative.
“International trade is at the heart of the freeport project,” he said.
IOE&IT and freeports
The Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation in Teesside is co-ordinated by the International Chamber of Commerce UK and supported by the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority, industry and government. The IOE&IT is among the new organisation’s partners.