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A joint bid to make Thurrock the centre of a major global free port on the river Thames has been launched by Forth Ports Group and DP World.

The bid is in response to government plans to create up to 10 free ports across the UK after Brexit. These will allow firms to import goods and then re-export them outside normal tax and customs rules.

The deadline for free port bid submission is expected to be towards the end of 2020.

Charles Hammond, Forth Ports chief executive said: “I am looking forward to working with the team at London Gateway on this submission for free port status.

“Thurrock is at the heart of the port industry in the South East and the development hub of the Thames estuary. This joint bid brings together our complementary strengths which will create a strong, export-focused case for a free port designation.”

He added that both London Gateway and Tilbury have strong international connections, streamlined customs systems and developable land close to key markets as well as the UK’s largest unaccompanied freight ferry terminal at Tilbury2.

Ernst Schulze, DP World UK chief executive, said: “We believe a free port on the Thames will ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive destination for inward investment, and that bringing London Gateway within a free port will help lower the total cost of trade to the benefit of UK industry and retailers and ensure resilience in the overall supply chain.

“Working with Forth Ports will enable us to create the most sustainable, strategically located, trade enabling centre of excellence in the UK, whilst allowing us to support the development of local industry and create high skilled employment for the local area.”

The Port of Tilbury, owned by Forth Ports, is the largest port serving the South East and held freeport status until 2012. Since then it has invested £1bn which has seen it to double the size of its business. The port is also projected to double the volume of cargo to 32 million tonnes and increase direct employment from 3,500 to 12,000 jobs.

DP World London Gateway is the UK’s newest container port. The DP World Group has invested over £1.5bn for the development, which can handle the largest container vessels, and boasts 9.25m sq ft of warehousing space.

DP World also brings its experience of operating the Middle East’s largest free trade zone at Jebel Ali in Dubai.