Cromarty Firth businesses launch bid for free port status

Highland businesses have today launched an attempt to win free port status for the area around Cromarty Firth. Opportunity Cromarty Firth is backed by the Port of Cromarty Firth and partners including Global Energy Group, Highland Council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and the University of the Highlands & Islands.

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They believe a Free Trade Zone in the area will help secure supply chain opportunities after the UK leaves the EU single market and provide skilled employment in the Highlands for the next half a century. A free trade zone would effectively operate outside the UK's tax jurisdiction.

Companies could defer the payment of taxes on products until they are sent to their destination. They can also avoid taxes on components they import to make goods which are then exported. Copenhagen and Bremen are among 92 free ports in the EU area.

Many companies at Port of Cromarty Firth, at Invergrdon, and nearby Port of Nigg manufacture and service equipment for the energy sector to be sent abroad. Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: "The creation of Free Trade Zones, also referred to as free ports, are part of the UK Government's economic growth strategy post-Brexit - and there are plans to create up to 10 across the UK. "We believe Cromarty Firth is the ideal location to establish one of these Free Trade Zones, and we hope those who come to the virtual public event will be as excited as we are at the opportunities a Free Trade Zone could bring to our area.

"Cromarty Firth is steeped in industrial history, having supported North Sea oil and gas activity since the 1970s, and is now playing a critical role in the Scottish offshore wind sector. "The Firth hosts a number of leading supply chain companies as well as a locally skilled workforce with essential engineering experience. This is coupled with first-class port infrastructure and manufacturing facilities, which have benefited from over GBP110 million of industry-led investments.

"Thanks to our Highland location, Cromarty Firth is in a unique position as 15 of the 17 sites identified in the draft Marine Plan for offshore wind development are on our doorstep. Not only that, our ambitions and pipeline will support Scotland and the UK meet their climate obligations, helping to build offshore wind and hydrogen deployment at scale." Opportunity Cromarty Firth was outlining its plans at a virtual public launch event on August 20.

Alasdair Christie, Highland Council depute leader and chair of Recovery Board, said: "The Cromarty Firth Free Trade Zone bid holds significant potential for the Highland region and its economic recovery, and could open up major opportunities for future employment and skills for our workforce. "It points to the unique position that Highland is in to accommodate such innovations, with services and businesses ready to help drive forward a green economy and to support future jobs. The Council is supporting and advising the Steering Group on relevant issues as they prepare the bid for Free Trade Zone status."

James Gibbs, HIE area manager for the Inner Moray Firth, said: "This ambitious initiative could bring many potential benefits to manufacturing and the wider supply chain companies in the region, particularly those in the energy sector. "There will be strong links to Scotland's green recovery and the drive towards an economy based on net-zero emissions. We look forward to working with all partners involved with a view to securing those benefits for the wider region and for Scotland."

Roy MacGregor, chairman of Global Energy Group, said: "We are delighted to be working with the Port of Cromarty Firth and other stakeholders in this opportunity that would, if successful, present numerous opportunities for the area and wider Highland region.

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"It is our continuing desire to support the development of the Cromarty Firth and turn the Port of Nigg facility into an all-round Energy HUB. The investment that has been made into Nigg since our purchase in 2011 has meant that we have been able to develop an extensive track record in the delivery of renewables project both in manufacturing and as a staging port for two major Offshore Wind projects. "Our world class facility, people and companies are ideally placed to support the future of the energy industry and would welcome the additional prospects that the Free Trade Zone status will inevitably present.

It is our hope that the Cromarty Firth, with its enviable location will put the Highlands on the map and ensure a sustainable future for the region and beyond."

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