Highland port backs bid to create free-trade zone

(C) JMC Comms

The Port of Inverness has announced it is backing a recently-launched bid to create a free port in the Cromarty Firth. Yesterday, the trust port's chief executive, Sinclair Browne, said the organisation believed the move would benefit the area as a whole. The port has joined a group of public and private sector bodies, including the Port of Cromarty Firth (PCF), Global Energy Group, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Highland Council on the Opportunity Cromarty Firth steering group, which aims to establish one of up to 10 post-Brexit free trade zones planned by the UK Government.

If successful, the area would become an independent jurisdiction for customs purposes. The steering group expects that would attract considerable inward investment into the Highlands, creating a "pipeline" of skilled jobs for the next 50 years. Mr Browne said: "We are delighted to be joining the steering group of this innovative bid to stimulate economic development and consolidate our existing skills and strengths into a centre of excellence for the renewable energy technologies of the future.

The plans would benefit the area as a whole and it is very fitting for the Highland capital to be involved. With our excellent facilities, Port of Inverness has built up considerable experience of the renewable energy sector over recent years and we look forward to the opportunities a focus on a green economy will bring to the area." Bob Buskie, chief executive of Invergordon-based PCF, welcomed the backing of the port's near neighbour.

Mr Buskie said: "We are delighted that Port of Inverness has joined the Opportunity Cromarty Firth steering group. "Together, along with our fellow partners from industry, academia and the public sector, we will drive forward the case for a free trade zone that will have huge positive benefits for the region, and safeguard sustainable and quality jobs in the Highlands." The plans for free ports anticipate at least one being established in Scotland.

Ambitious plan could ensure 'vital hub of industry, trade and jobs'

The government aims to create up to 10 post-Brexit free trade zones around the UK under plans unveiled last year.

They would allow goods to be manufactured, imported and exported without barriers to trade such as tariffs and customs duties. The ambitious bid by the Opportunity Cromarty Firth steering group to create such a zone in the Highlands was exclusively revealed by The P&J last month. Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive Bob Buskie said securing free port status would make the area a "vital hub of industry, trade and employment in a post-Brexit Scotland and UK".

The public and private sector backers of the Highland bid have not yet estimated how many new job opportunities the project may create. But they said they were confident it would "help secure much-needed post-Brexit supply chain opportunities and provide skilled employment in the Highlands for the next half a century". They added the ambition was to "stimulate economic activity and employment, attract inward investment in innovative renewable energy technologies of the future, and equip local people and businesses with the necessary skills to bring transformational regeneration to the north of Scotland".

Highlands and Islands Enterprise Inner Moray Firth area manager James Gibbs said the initiative could "bring many potential benefits to manufacturing and the wider supply chain companies in the region, particularly those in the energy sector".

And Global Energy Group chairman Roy MacGregor predicted free port status would "inevitably" present "additional prospects" for the Inverness-based company.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told The P&J last year he was "minded" to grant Aberdeen or Peterhead free trade zone status.

Highland port backs bid to create free-trade zone

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