Newly-appointed International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has announced a new Freeports Advisory Panel and says the post-Brexit scheme will create "thousands of jobs" as part of the UK's future trade arrangements.
Ahead of a visit to the Tees Vallley, one of the areas hoping to set up a free port, Leeds-educated Mrs Truss said the Government plans to create "the world's most advanced free port model" as soon as possible.
Free ports or zones are designated by the government as areas with little to no tax in order to encourage economic activity. While located geographically within a country, they essentially exist outside its borders for tax purposes.
Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has set out how Teesport, a major port four miles east of Middlesbrough in the old North Riding of Yorkshire, could boost the UK's economy by becoming a free port.
Mr Houchen said: “Teesport played a crucial role in this nation’s historic trading past, and is key to our great trading future.
“Creating a freeport right here would turbocharge jobs and growth, bringing investment into the region and making us a global hub of enterprise and innovation.”
During her visit, Mrs Truss will also meet with PD Ports and tour Teesport to learn more about the port’s operations, priorities and plans for the future and saw first-hand the size and scale of operations undertaken there.
Once the UK leaves the EU, seaports and airports across the UK will be invited to bid to become one of up to 10 free ports with the aspiration of increasing trade with new markets across the world.
She said free ports would use onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the "gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs".
"We will have a truly independent trade policy after we leave the EU on October 31," she added.
However, Labour said free ports represent "a race to the bottom that will have money launderers and tax dodgers rubbing their hands with glee".
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said: "Freeports and free enterprise zones risk companies shutting up shop in one part of the country in order to exploit tax breaks elsewhere, and, worst of all, lower employment rights.
"The British people did not vote for this new administration and they certainly did not vote to see their jobs and livelihoods threatened in favour of gifting further tax breaks to big companies and their bosses."
In his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson said free ports would provide thousands of jobs for people in "left-behind areas".
During the Tory leadership campaign, Mr Johnson pledged to create "about six" free ports.
Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, recently appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury. wrote a paper in November 2016 on free ports for the Centre for Policy Studies think tank - which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher.
In the document, Mr Sunak wrote: "Goods can be imported, manufactured or re-exported inside the Free Trade Zone without incurring domestic customs duties or taxes.
"These are only paid - often at reduced rates - on goods entering the domestic economy."
Today, Mr Sunak said: "We are exploring free ports as an innovative way to drive growth and support thousands of high-skilled jobs across the UK.
"We will focus on those areas that could benefit the most, as we look to boost investment and opportunity for communities across the country."