THE Government has thrown its weight behind plans to introduce freeport status to a North-East port – a move that could create tens of thousands of new jobs in the region.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss visited Teesport yesterday to launch a freeport commission to create up to ten tariff-free zones across the UK.

Although no final decisions have made to which areas will be selected, Ms Truss gave the strongest indication yet that Teesport will be included, saying the site is "very ahead of the game" compared to the rest of the country.

Freeports aim to reduce unnecessary checks and paperwork, and include customs and tax benefits, with the aim of reducing costs and bureaucracy, encouraging manufacturing businesses to set up or re-shore.

PD Ports, Hitachi Rail, Sirius Minerals, Liberty Steel and Quorn Foods are some of the firms to have backed the introduction of a freeport, which could create 32,000 new jobs across the North-East according to a report published last year.

The commission will invite bids from ports and airports across the UK to become one of up to ten initial freeports in operation once Britain leaves the EU. Liverpool and ports in Scotland are understood to be other frontrunners.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Ms Truss said: "Teesport is already hugely advanced in terms of technology and the global shipping routes that are here, and what you also see is the space to fill this area with even more thriving businesses and more investment from countries around the world.

"Freeports will show a newly confident Britain that wants to go out there, attract investment from around the globe, do things differently, having our own rules and regulations and showing off our own skills and talents.

"This area has hugely successful IT industry, major engineering, and there is more potential to grow jobs in that area.

"Teesport is very ahead of the game in terms of all the preparatory work that has been done here and there is huge appetite and enthusiasm from the port operators and business that I've spoken to.

"I want to see these ports right across our country – I don't see this is an either or, I want to see as many places as possible benefit from freeport status."

The introduction of freeports were supported by Boris Johnson during his campaign to become Prime Minister, and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland MP Simon Clarke have long campaigned for Teesport to be given freeport status.

Mr Houchen added: “After a 19 month campaign, I’m delighted the new Government has sat up, listened to the people of Teesside and announced 10 new Free Ports across the UK.

"Freeports have the potential to turbocharge our regional economy after Brexit, bringing desperately-needed jobs, growth and investment here and making us a magnet for even more international investment. This is a game changing opportunity to reshore manufacturing jobs we haven’t seen in this country for decades to the former Redcar steelworks site.

“As we leave the EU and reclaim our place as an open, outward-looking trading nation once more, a Free Port would be beyond transformational for our region, helping us build our current strengths in chemical processing, energy and logistics industries.

“Every single independent report confirms that we all see a major boost as we realise our vision to become the most attractive place in the country for high value manufacturing.

“Last week we welcomed the US Ambassador to the UK and today our campaign to secure a Free Port for Teesside has been successful. Slowly but surely our region is receiving some much-needed positive attention.

“Teesport played a crucial role in this nation’s historic trading past, and is key to our great trading future after we leave the European Union.”

Rachel Anderson, assistant director of policy at the North-East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “Firstly, our members have been clear that their preference would be to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union as that is the best option for frictionless trade with our biggest market in the EU.

“However, if we do indeed leave the Single Market and Customs Union, we are generally supportive of the concept of Freeports and have seen where they have been drivers of job creation elsewhere and, if we are to get freeports then the North East is an obvious place to locate them. 

"We do still need details as there are many different models of freeports and it is not yet clear what the Government will allow. 

"We would also need to see details on incentives to invest and the implications for business rates for the local area.  We also have some concerns around displacement and the effects on those areas not within a freeport.  A freeport must be a net job creator, not simply relocate jobs from elsewhere in the Country.”