IF you believed everything that supporters of ‘free ports’ said then you might wonder why on earth coastlines around the globe aren’t already one unbroken chain of these job-creating economic honey pots. 

For more than a year Brexiteer and Richmond MP Rishi Sunak has been talking about the benfits that free ports could bring to the north. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Redcar MP Anna Turley have now picked up the baton. 

A free port is a zone within a country which is treated, for customs purposes, as an independent jurisdiction. This means goods can be made, imported and exported in the zone without incurring normal trade barriers like customs duties. Companies love these zones as they save them a fortune in taxes and give them an opportunity to dodge costly employment and environmental rules.   

Arguments in favour of creating Britain’s first mainland free ports are gaining traction as a means of boosting trade post-Brexit. For free ports to work best, however, we would have to complete a ‘hard Brexit’ and quit the single market and customs union. 

Although the United States has more than 250 free trade zones and they are commonplace across Asia and Africa, Brussels has frowned on them being established in the EU as they upset the delicate balance of rules and regulations which aim to promote fairness across the trading bloc. Brexit frees the UK from EU customs and trade mandates and opens up an opportunity - but it's not without consequences.   

Mr Houchen argues that if Teesport gets free port status it could become a magnet for jobs and investment. In theory this sounds great but supporters of free ports for northern Britain won’t tell you about the potential drawbacks, so we'll have to.

Claims that these zones could create 86,000 jobs across the north fail to highlight this is a fraction of the number that could be lost if we leave the customs union and single market.

They won’t talk about the potential hit to wages, workers’ rights and the environment, or how there is an inherent conflict between calling for free ports - which presumes a 'hard' Brexit - and Britain's ongoing negotiations with Michel Barnier - which remain open-minded to a number of 'softer' outcomes.

Free ports may become a bone of contention in those negotiations forcing David Davis to drop the proposal in favour of achieving more fundamental Brexit objectives. Whichever kind of Brexit we end up with there is no benefit in us falling out with the EU as it will remain our key trading partner for the foreseeable future.

So what does this all mean for Teesport, Tees Valley and the wider North-East?  

Over the coming days and weeks you will see tub-thumping headlines which link the creation of a Tees free port with a massive economic boost to the area. You will be encouraged to think that the issue is a no brainer, but we'd like to think that Echo readers would rather exercise their grey matter than rely on politicians to do their thinking for them.

The issue is more complex than many would have you believe. A lot of binary language has been used of late which says 'you are either for us or against us' in relation to regeneration plans for the region, Tees Valley in particular. Some newspapers seem content to tell their readers only part of the story, while those that dare to probe behind the headlines are accused of being negative. But when newspapers stop asking hard questions they risk losing their credibility. 

The Echo has long been a passionate advocate for the North-East. Our bid to bring the Hitachi train factory to Newton Aycliffe, support for the proposed Aykley Heads development in Durham, and Keep the Region Flying campaign for Durham Tees Valley Airport show that we'll throw our weight behind issues when we believe they are in the region's best interests. We're not alone. Lots of other people - politicians, businesses, councils, the government - work hard to secure inward investment; no one has a monopoly on caring about the future economic prospects of the North-East. 

We welcome the ongoing debate about free trade zones and their potential benefits to our region but let’s hear a balanced argument which weighs up all of the pros and cons rather than just the one-sided rhetoric of hard Brexiteers.