Free ports risk becoming “a magnet for trade operating on the borders of the law”, the head of Britain’s biggest business group has warned.
Ahead of the CBI’s international trade conference today, the organisation’s director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn called on ministers to create an Office for Trade Impact to, among other things, assess the extent to which free ports would help the Government achieve its aim of “levelling up” disadvantaged regions.
As well as ensuring that free ports do not attract “unregulated” trade, she said the Government must prevent them becoming “islands to themselves” that displace investment and jobs from one area to another.
“You want to have a net increase in jobs,” she said. “You can easily build that into the metrics.” The first post-Brexit free port is expected to open next year.
Last Wednesday, the Government published its formal response to a consultation on the policy, which will create areas where companies enjoy looser planning rules and import goods without being subject to UK customs controls or duties as long as they are subsequently exported.
However, trade experts highlight international examples such as the free port of Geneva, which has admitted it stores a million works of art, including roughly 1,000 by Pablo Picasso, whose ownership is unclear.