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Freeport vision could unlock trade opportunities but plans need clarity, says FTA

The government’s proposal to establish ten Freeports in the UK has the potential to unlock significant opportunities for international trade, according to FTA, the business group representing the logistics sector. However, key questions still need to be addressed to prevent a host of issues as the policy is implemented, as Zoe McLernon, Multimodal Policy Manager at FTA, explains:

“While FTA’s members support the concept of Freeports – since they provide new opportunities for international trade, economic activity, innovation and efficiency – we are urging government to provide additional details on its vision for their establishment in the UK. This detail will be vital to addressing any potential issues with fairness and competition, planning processes, friction with Northern Ireland Protocol, custom processes and investment into infrastructure. Freeports are no miracle cure for economic malaise, but could have a major role in economic restart and recovery. We want to work with government to ensure their establishment delivers the best outcome for logistics and the wider economy.

“Firstly, FTA asks that the government considers a multi-site concept, or virtual Freeport zones, to account for businesses and industries that do not already operate in the direct vicinity of a port, airport or railway terminal; this would provide a corridor of opportunity for multiple industries to benefit. Additional infrastructure will also play a vital role in the development and sustainability of each Freeport; we ask for flexibility and freedoms with planning processes to make this possible. Our members would like to see government consider a multimodal approach to grant users access via all modes of transport.”

Ms McLernon continues: “FTA’s members also want to see government provide a clear definition of a Freeport; clear parameters, in addition to economic assessments, need to be established to better understand the proposals. And our members involved in international trade have stressed the need for any proposed customs and tax arrangements to add value and benefits beyond those available in existing customs regulations.

“While Freeports may play an important role in devolved regions, FTA does have some concerns over the compatibility of Freeports with the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol. If a Freeport is considered in NI it may present a conflict with EU level playing field rules. As such, we would welcome additional clarity on the operational and legal capacity and benefits that a Freeport could deliver in NI, in comparison to a Freeport in Great Britain, which can be treated under UK unilateral rules.”

FTA is one of the UK’s leading business groups, representing logistics businesses which are vital to keeping the UK trading, and more than seven million people directly employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With COVID-19, Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc. FTA supports, shapes and stands up for safe and efficient logistics, and is the only business group which represents the whole industry, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers whose businesses depend on the efficient movement of goods. For more information about the organisation and its work, including its ground-breaking research into the impacts of COVID-19 on the whole supply chain, please visit www.fta.co.uk.

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