THE SNP Trade Union Group (TUG) has called on the Scottish Government to review and reconsider the current green freeports strategy.

Inverness and Cromarty Firth green freeport and Forth green freeport were announced as Scotland’s two winning bids in January last year through the scheme agreed by the Scottish and UK governments – which offers special tax incentives and lower tariffs with the aim of stimulating economic growth.

And while the Forth green freeport’s outline business case is still yet to be approved, the Highlands scheme’s tax sites are set to go live on Monday (April 8).

But Simon Barrow, national secretary of SNP TUG, told The National that we need a “thorough review and reconsideration of Scotland’s ports strategy”.

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“As a minimum, we believe that freeport contracts should include time-limits on the kind of deals currently being agreed,” he added.

Barrow said that SNP TUG – which is the party’s largest affiliate body with more than 12,000 members – is “extremely concerned” about Scotland’s “entanglement” with the UK Government’s freeports plan, which he described as a “tax-free and weak-regulation backdoor into the economy for those looking to extract wealth with minimal effort”.

A motion at SNP conference in 2021 highlighted concerns the scheme was a part of the “agenda to undermine devolution” and set out a list of six strict conditions that should be met if freeports were to be permitted in Scotland – including regulation, transparency and full trade union recognition.

“None of which have been addressed satisfactorily,” Barrow said.

The National: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: Activists take part in a STUC cost of living demonstration on September 08, 2022 in Edinburgh, Scotland The STUC and affiliated unions are campaigning for a range of urgent actions to stem the cost of living crisis.

“A mountain of evidence worldwide now suggests that freeports have a damaging net impact on local economies, workers’ rights and conditions, government revenue, health and safety, and the environment,” he added.

“That is aside from issues of fraud, criminality and corruption that lie deep within the history of freeports.”

The first freeports in the UK opened in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher in an effort to combat deindustrialisation and a declining economy. It was only in 2012 that the Tory-led government decided not to renew their licences.

Studies have found that freeports can become hubs for criminal activity – including trade in counterfeit goods, drug trafficking, smuggling of untaxed goods or trade-based money laundering.

In 2020, the EU clamped down on 82 free ports or free zones after identifying that their special tariff and duty status had also aided the financing of terrorism and organised crime.

SNP TUG also highlighted concerns that the establishment of Scotland’s green freeports could “endanger” the possibility of an independent Scotland joining the EU, and damage the “prospects of gaining economic as well as political decision-making over our future”.

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Trade minister Richard Lochhead told The National that there is “no evidence” that green freeports could damage an independent Scotland’s EU ambitions after Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer highlighted similar concerns. 

He added: “Many 'free zones' are in operation across European Union member states, including those similar in design to the green freeports.”

Scotland’s ‘green freeports’ are different from UK freeports in that they have a focus on contributing to the Scottish Government's net zero agenda.

“As SNP trade unionists, we stand by party policy,” Barrow said.

But he added: “At present the Scottish Government does not have the legal authority to guarantee any of the safeguards it has been talking about.”