By Jonas Ekblom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Britain is accelerating its post-Brexit plans to develop freeports to boost trade, Trade Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to discuss similar U.S. projects and a U.S-UK trade deal.
Truss was due to visit the Port of Newark, New Jersey, one of roughly 300 U.S. freeports, on Friday as part of her first overseas trip after taking office two weeks ago. She said freeports could help Britain achieve its goal of displacing Germany to become Europe’s largest economy.
The British government announced plans earlier this month to create up to 10 freeports to boost trade and manufacturing by cutting costs and bureaucracy after it leaves the European Union on Oct. 31.
Freeports, also known as free trade zones, are areas where goods or raw materials can be stored or made into finished goods free of customs duties and taxes before being exported again.
Truss told an event hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank that the United States was Britain’s most important trading partner and London viewed negotiating a free trade agreement with Washington as a top priority.
Truss met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer earlier this week, and with various British businesses such as car maker Jaguar Land Rover Plc, part of Tata Motors Ltd <TAMO.NS>, and telecoms firm BT Group Plc <BT.L>.
“I think there is a big opportunity to onshore manufacturing in the UK to create those customs zones where we will be able to import and export raw materials into finished goods and create value on our shores,” Truss said.
The Newark port freeport, home to 39 businesses that include pharmaceutical firms, food importers, auto processors and oil companies, will host Truss for a visit on Friday, said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson.
The Newark port is part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is the third largest port in the United States and the busiest on the U.S. Eastern seaboard.
Britain plans to create a Freeport Advisory Panel to “turbocharge growth and ensure towns and cities across the UK benefit from Brexit trade opportunities,” according to a statement on a government website.
While proponents of freeports argue they create new jobs, sceptics say they mainly redistribute economic activity within a given country.
“The U.S. experience is not very illuminating: whilst there are many jobs in the U.S. Foreign-Trade Zones, there is little evidence of how many are net creations,” the UK Trade Policy Observatory, run by the University of Sussex and Chatham House think-tank, said in a report published earlier this year.
(Reporting by Jonas Ekblom; Editing by Leslie Adler)