TEESSIDE is at “the head of the queue” for one of ten new free ports to be set up across the country in plans announced yesterday by the Government, it was claimed last night.

A consultation process is being launched by the Government aimed at naming the locations of the free ports by the end of the year so that they can be open for business in 2021. Ministers believe the new “business and enterprise hubs” will create thousands of jobs.

The free ports could see goods brought in to them not receiving tariffs until they enter the domestic market, with no duty payable if they are re-exported.

Once the ten-week consultation is completed, the Government will invite sea, air and rail ports to bid for free port status “on a competitive basis”. Teesport has long been seen as a front runner, with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss using a visit to the site to announce a free port commission last summer.

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Labour has slammed the proposals, saying there is little evidence that free ports create jobs or boost economic growth.

But last night Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Conservative MP Simon Clarke hit back. “The whole reason free ports within the EU haven’t taken off is precisely because you can’t create the tax and regulatory incentives needed to attract new businesses while you are signed up to the Customs Union,” he said.

The creation of a free port at Teesport would have “hugely exciting potential to deliver new growth and manufacturing jobs, enhancing the next-door Development Corporation at the former SSI site,” said Mr Clarke. He added: “We’re at the head of the queue.”

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Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said he is “delighted” that the consultation has been launched and “the Government is committed to introducing these low tax zones”.

“A free port on the Tees or at the South Tees Development Corporation site will result in a hive of activity, enterprise and innovation right across our region, and could see the creation of more than 32,000 jobs over the next 25 years,” he said.

“The government has already said we are at the front of the queue, and the launch of this consultation means we are one step closer to the free port vision becoming a reality.

“Teesside has played a crucial role in this nation’s historic trading past, and it must be key to our great trading future now we have left the European Union.”

The consultation launch was also welcomed by Port of Tyne, which has been championing a “virtual free port”, connected using supply chain technology and supporting existing advanced manufacturing operations including Nissan.

Matt Beeton, chief executive officer of the Port of Tyne, said: “A free trade zone targeted at growing the region’s advanced manufacturing and renewable energy clusters would boost global trade across key North-East locations, helping to secure many existing supply chains and attracting many more into the region from overseas.

“Utilising best practice from many other global ‘virtual freeports’ and the complex supply chain expertise within the region, we will continue to progress a multi-site zone connected by supply chain technology.

“Our recently opened 2050 Innovation Hub, together with our expanded, globally connected container terminal, streamlined customs systems and substantial developable land mean our operations are ideally suited to support existing or new manufacturing and processing business opportunities.”

Henri Murison, director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “We have a number of international gateways across the Northern Powerhouse, from the Humber to the Mersey, the river Tees to Barrow, that could benefit from incentivised status to attract industry. The detail of these proposals will need to guarantee significant additional growth, in particular in trade, to justify their designation.”