Boris Johnson’s Free Port Dreams Face a Luxembourg Reality
26 Aug 2019

In Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit vision of a dynamic economy unshackled from the European Union, depressed British port cities will come roaring back to life as tax-exempt free ports. A concrete bunker on the edge of Luxembourg’s airport provides a useful reality check.

There, on a side road flanked by dirt banks and a motorway, a black-and-white sign surrounded by weeds indicates you’ve arrived at “Le Freeport.” First impressions don’t smack of a hive of activity, or even intrigue.

That’s because managing a free port has become more of a bureaucratic headache as these tax-free facilities face growing criticism for being conduits of money laundering and tax evasion.

Philippe Dauvergne, a former French customs official, is trying to change that image. He’s the chief executive officer of the facility, a squat 22,000 square-meter (237,000 square-feet) structure on the grounds of Luxembourg’s cargo terminal.

Geneva Scandals

Le Freeport hosted some 800 visitors last year and held an open house in March to showcase its more elegant, Italian-designed interior and demystify what goes on inside. Comparisons with better-known free ports like the one in Geneva, a source of scandals in the past, are misplaced, he says.

“What we want here especially is security, transparency and services,” Dauvergne said in an interview after giving a tour. “We don’t want what’s easy and vague.”

With Brexit still in the balance, the future outline of any British free port is also hazy. After becoming prime minister last month, Johnson set up a panel to establish up to 10 in Britain, creating what the panel said would be as many as 86,000 jobs.

By Hugo Miller and Stephanie Bodoni, Bloomberg, 22 August 2019

Read more at Bloomberg

Photo: UK Government [OGL 3], via Wikimedia Commons

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