Last reviewed 22 April 2021

We reported in March that Chancellor Rishi Sunak had confirmed in his Budget speech that eight locations in England had been successful in their bid to be designated freeports (see Eight English areas get freeports go-ahead).

A freeport is a designated geographical area which can benefit from concessions on customs, taxation and planning advantages as well as reduced bureaucracy.

Following the Chancellor’s announcement, Parliament’s International Trade Committee decided to examine the Government’s policy objectives and the package of measures available within the chosen sites.

Its report, “UK freeports”, which is now available at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmintrade/258/25802.htm, commends the Government’s ambition to increase trade and investment across the UK but stresses that it remains to be seen how successful freeports will be at achieving this objective.

Noting that freeports focused solely on tariff benefits would be unlikely to be successful in the UK, the Committee welcomes the fact that the package of incentives associated with the UK policy distinguishes it from the traditional model.

“It is not possible to eradicate fully the risk of economic displacement associated with freeports,” the report warns. “To minimise it, the Government will need to be careful to distinguish between new economic activity and economic activity moving to a freeport from elsewhere.”

Given the keen interest shown by the Treasury in freeports, the Committee urges the Government to ensure that the Department for International Trade (DIT) has oversight of the policy, as well as the administration of freeports.

Committee Chairman Angus Brendan MacNeil said: “The Government should also commission an independent evaluation of the implementation of the freeports policy, within five years of the establishment of the first freeports.”