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MP: Grimsby ports free trade idea ‘not pie in the sky’

Humber south bank ports could be first in line to secure free trade status after Brexit – as long as the region can get organised, an MP has told seafood chiefs.

MP: Grimsby ports free trade idea ‘not pie in the sky’

Representatives from Grimsby’s seafood sector were in Westminster on Wednesday to lobby for support around their concept of free trade status for fish coming in and out of Immingham and Grimsby docks after the UK leaves the European Union.

Simon Dwyer, from Seafood Grimsby and Humber, Bill Showalter, chief executive of Young’s, and Nigel Edwards, from Icelandic Seachill, all made the trip to Parliament.

At their meetings, the fisheries minister agreed to discuss the idea in more detail while the MP behind the free ports idea, Rishi Sunak, urged the region’s big businesses to press on with putting together a firm proposal to Government.

Mr Sunak, however, urged the group to be even more ambitious and push for free trade status to be applied to every good coming into the south bank ports – and not just fish.

The Conservative MP – who authored a report on how free ports could boost economies in coastal areas – advised the seafood trade to work with other major industries to secure wider support for free trade ports.

“I haven’t come across a by-sector arrangement before and I don’t know if that’s necessarily what you need to do,” he said.

“If you have a geographic area and there is a business sector in that area, then I don’t think you need to do it by-sector.”

A free port has designated areas which are considered to be outside the customs tax controls of government, meaning all imports and exports can be made tariff-free.

The seafood processing industry imports 90 per cent of the fresh fish it turns into plate-ready food and business leaders want to ensure import taxes are not applied after Brexit so Grimsby produce can remain at a competitive price.

Mr Sunak is already working with Teeside port and sites in Wales to explore the idea of free ports and implored Grimsby and Immingham to follow suit.

“When the Government is considering a first round of bids, you don’t want to be left out if others are organising,” he said.

“What I said to the representatives is that it is important to quite quickly build a consensus around this idea. We noted that Associated British Ports [which runs Grimsby and Immingham ports] are big supporters of the prospect of free ports.”

The Yorkshire MP added: “What I would say is, this is not a novel ‘pie in the sky’ idea. These free ports are all around the world – they are in China, Dubai, Brazil and the USA. There are 3,500 of them globally. It would be odd if we didn’t look into them.”

Martin Vickers, the MP for Cleethorpes who was also at the meeting, said the talk with Mr Sunak proved “very helpful” in understanding how a free trade port could work in North East Lincolnshire.

“The representatives realised there was more to it than just having it confined to a small area on the quayside,” said the Tory MP.

“In Grimsby, it could incorporate the two dock estates and also Europarc, for example. They are very willing to explore those possibilities after listening to Mr Sunak.”

READ MORE: Why didn't Grimsby's seafood trade do more to talk-up EU benefits before Brexit vote?

In a further boost to the concept, Trade Secretary Liam Fox told Mr Vickers, in an exchange in the House of Commons, that his department was “looking closely at the implications” of free ports after Brexit.

The seafood lobby also met with Fishing Minister George Eustice and the Prime Minister’s Nordic region trade envoy, Mark Prisk MP, while in London.

Mr Eustice agreed to send officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to Grimsby next week to discuss the post-Brexit proposals in more detail.

The Eurosceptic minister also listened to other Brexit concerns, including transporting Grimsby-bound fish through Europe, access to labour and also tariffs and customs checks with major import partner Iceland after the bloc exit.

Mr Dwyer said he hoped to “get into more detail on [free] trade status” when officials visit the industry next week.

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn joined the delegation for their meeting with Mr Eustice. She vowed to quiz the Defra minister on the progress made on the issues during the fisheries debate in Parliament, due to be held on Thursday, December 7.

The cohort also secured a future meeting with the Department for International Trade – who sent officials to join the discussions with Mr Prisk – in London to look at how Grimsby companies can export more seafood products after Brexit.

A Defra spokesman, in response to the seafood trade meetings, said it was working to secure “the freest possible trade in goods between the UK and the EU to help maintain a sustainable and profitable industry”.

The seafood industry will be submitting evidence to the Fisheries Committee on Monday about how it could be impacted by Brexit.

News Courtesy: www.humberbusiness.com

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