UK-EU trade committee meet as Brussels raises concerns over Freeport strategy

Fri 2 Dec 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

UK Freeports - EU raises questions

The UK-EU Trade Partnership Committee met yesterday (01 December) to discuss the future of joint-trade arrangements, with Brussels flagging a key British economic programme ahead of the meeting.

Julian Braithwaite, director general for Europe at the Foreign Office, met his EU counterpart, Ignacio Iruarrizaga Díez, for the first meeting of the UK-EU Trade Partnership Committee since November 2021.

The meeting in Brussels, produced “substantive discussions” on “the implementation of the trade provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement” Braithwaite tweeted.

Investment diversion

Ahead of the meeting, the EU had flagged concerns about the UK’s freeport programme, which it fears could lure investment away from its member countries, reports the FT.

Freeports, which were on the agenda for the committee meeting, were highlighted as potentially problematic in a briefing paper by the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) last month.

Concerns

UKTPO warned that the “tax incentives offered by the UK freeports may be perceived by an importing partner as unfair export subsidies”.

Accordingly, this “could leave exporters open to counter measures being deployed by the UK’s trading partners under provisions in free trade agreements or the World Trade Organization (WTO) rule,” as reported by Global Trade Review.

As previously covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, the government has named eight freeports in England that will have beneficial tax, customs and planning regimes to encourage investment.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has been an advocate of freeports since he was a backbench MP and supported them during his time as chancellor.

Freeport selection imminent

Scotland and Wales have their own slightly different freeport policies, which have been running to their own timelines.

Two ‘green freeports’ are due to be named in Scotland, although The Press & Journal reports that Scottish secretary Alister Jack has already privately decided on the locations.

Welsh freeports

Applications have also closed to bidders interested in setting up a new freeport in Wales.

According to the Welsh secretary, three bids have been received that will be jointly assessed by officials from the UK and Welsh governments, with the winner expected to be announced in early 2023.

The three bidders announced so far are Cardiff Airport, Anglesey and a consortium which includes the ports of Milford Haven and Port Talbot.