More than 50 businesses and individuals have signed a letter from mayor Ben Houchen to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, backing a study into establishing a Free Port in Tees Valley.
A number of global firms with a Tees base – including PD Ports, AV Dawson, Sirius Minerals, Liberty Steel and Quorn Foods – have joined the call to Philip Hammond.
And several well-known Tees business leaders have added their signatures to Mr Houchen’s letter, including Bulkhaul and Boro boss Steve Gibson, Wilton Engineering managing director Bill Scott and Teesside University chief executive Paul Croney, among many others.
The letter aims to make the area a test case for the establishment of Free Ports following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Free Ports provide special freedoms to trade, within a specific area around a major port, Free Port status supports the expansion of international trade by offering exemptions from certain operational, regulatory and customs requirements.
There are different models of Free Ports, which have operated successfully in many countries around the world.
Leaving the EU will enable Britain to capitalise on the Free Port opportunity to attract further investment, jobs and a stronger regional and national economy. Today, the EU Customs Union and EU State Aid laws make this almost impossible.
And even though there are down sides to having a Free Port – leaving the single market and customs union could lead to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs – Mr Houchen’s bid has won local cross-party support, with Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke and Redcar MP Anna Turley both backing the campaign.
Richmond Yorks MP Rishi Sunak authored a report on Free Ports for the Centre for Policy Studies in November 2016. It found that they could create more than 86,000 jobs nationwide.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “When we leave the EU, Britain will find itself with more freedoms than at any time in almost half a century. Whether you voted leave or remain, we need to look to the future and at the opportunities that are ahead.
“Free Port status for Tees Valley will be transformational for local people. Not only would we become an international magnet for businesses wanting to set up here, it’ll also mean more jobs for local people.
“There is grit and a natural optimism in places like Tees Valley when it comes to Britain’s place in the world. We are and always have been an open, outward-looking part of the world, ready and willing to embrace new opportunities.
“Our industrial roots, current businesses and future plans for the world-class South Tees Development Corporation site mark us out as a manufacturing powerhouse to be reckoned with.
“So as we take back control of our trade policy, I want to ensure we capitalise on these new freedoms to ensure we’re best placed to benefit from all that Brexit brings.
“I am enormously grateful the campaign has secured such positive support from the business community and local politicians – particularly Simon Clarke MP who has been a passionate advocate in Parliament.
“We are all united in our ambition for our area, but now it’s time for the government to listen to us, look forward and embrace the merits of Free Port status.”