Humber could miss out on becoming a free port under 'soft' Brexit

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 21 Jan 2019

The Humber could miss out on the advantages of becoming a free port if the UK opts for a soft Brexit.

That was the hint from Associated British Ports, the company which dominates the estuary's operations, when asked about the possibility of remaining in a customs union with the EU.

Staying in would allow frictionless trade to continue between the UK and the EU after Brexit, but it would likely see Britain mirror the EU’s tariff regime.

The concept of free ports – an idea which would create an independent tax jurisdiction at approved ports, putting them outside of the Treasury’s control – relies on the country being able to set its own import and export tariffs.

ABP supports the creation of free ports after Brexit and is encouraging the Government to trial such an operation here.

Read more: Backing for free ports grows as Immingham prepares for extra Brexit business

But Dafydd Williams, ABP’s head of communications in the Humber, hinted that the move was only worth exploring if Britain was outside the customs union, when addressing the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for free ports last week. He said: “What we are saying is, in the event that we are leaving the customs union, then there is a role for free ports. That’s the diplomatic answer.

“We are not going to comment on whether we would like to stay in a customs union or not. But we are saying, if we are leaving the customs union, then free ports have a role to play.”

Dafydd Williams, ABP's head of communications in the Humber

A report by a former Treasury economist claimed in June that free ports – which are widely in use around the world – would make every household £1,500 better off, while also supporting 12,000 high-value jobs across the city and adding £739m annually to the local economy.

ABP’s Mr Williams outlined how free ports could have particular benefit for manufacturing industries. He said: “The advantages for manufacturers is that they have access to raw materials and international markets without paying tariffs on each individual part. They would only face a tariff on the final finished product. In a free trade agreement, there are definitely advantages to that.”

Read more: Hard Brexit preparations detailed on the Humber as PM's Brexit vote looms

Simon Bird, director of ABP’s Humber operation, has previously confirmed the company has already earmarked the Humber International Enterprise Park – a 450-acre site in the Port of Hull, situated between Paull village and Saltend – as an area which could benefit from future free port status.  

It is currently being marketed and consulted on for development associated with renewable and low carbon industries.

Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers, chairman of the free ports APPG, said he was seeking a meeting with Dr Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, to discuss the concept. Two Treasury ministers – Chief Secretary Liz Truss and Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick – have both spoken favourably about free ports in the past.

Other attendees at the APPG meeting included a representative from the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership and bosses from ports in Bristol, Southampton and the Tyne.

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