Cross border trade facilitation was being neglected in the negotiations leading up to Brexit, according to British Ports Association CEO Richard Ballantyne. Commenting on a speech by UK minister David Davis, Ballantyne said that “the confirmation of the Government’s priorities for Brexit transitional arrangements provides European focused ports and logistics operators some clarity that in the short term it will be business as usual at the border. Much depends upon the negotiations and agreements of course but longer term, post the transitional period, we are unsure what the arrangements might be when leaving the European Union.”
Ballantyne said that it was apparent that a far greater focus was being put on the UK’s future global new trade arrangements rather than on cross border operational provisions for the almost 50% of UK trade that is with European neighbours.
Ballantyne noted that the Free Ports concept had recently been much debated. Ballantyne said that this would probably not in itself solve some of the immediate cross border challenges arising from Brexit but that there were some ports, such as Milford Haven, Teesport and others, where there could be interest.
He said that the British Ports Association had written to UK finance minister Philip Hammond this week, outlining its vision for UK ports to be granted a special status which would enable them to facilitate and accommodate development, enterprise and regional growth.
Ballantyne said that the vision was for “a new pro-growth and trade initiative where UK ports are designated as ‘Port Development and Enterprise Zones’, encouraging regional and coastal development and boosting trade”. He said that, within such zones, trade and industrial activity could be incentivized by favourable business, tax and planning conditions.
He said that this was wider than Free Ports itself and could cover ports, tenants and the clusters of businesses around port locations, providing significant levels of employment in often deprived regions.
Whilst Free Port status might not be suitable for all ports and would certainly not provide a Brexit solution for gateway ports, Ballantyne said that the UK government needed to examine how this might work in the future. “It also remains unclear if the terms of any Brexit departure deal would even allow free ports as they may cause competition and state aide challenges”, he concluded.