MANUFACTURERS in Hampshire’s planned freeport may miss out on the full benefits if they export to countries with which the UK has post-Brexit trade deals.

The government gave the go-ahead earlier this year for a Solent freeport which supporters say could create more than 25,000 local jobs.

But Labour said a “catastrophic blunder” means manufacturers operating in freeports could face tariffs on their exports to key markets including Switzerland, Canada, Norway and Singapore, despite the UK’s free trade agreements with those countries.

Boris Johnson and Southampton-born chancellor Rishi Sunak have championed the idea of freeports, which are special economic zones offering tax breaks and lower tariffs.

Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which submitted Hampshire’s application, has said more than £2billion could be invested in the region under the proposal.

It says 52,000 jobs could flow from the bid, more than half of them locally.

The opposition suggested that tariffs will apply to exports to 23 countries with which the UK has signed agreements to roll over deals those nations had with the European Union.

Labour said trade ministers failed to remove wide-ranging “duty exemption prohibitions” contained in those agreements.

The prohibitions state that any business which has not paid duty on its imports cannot benefit from reduced tariffs on its exports.

A government spokesman said: “There is no error and it is not uncommon for free trade agreements to have these provisions.

“Businesses will not be shut out of markets we have negotiated free trade deals with. They will benefit from both our free trade programme, and also from freeports, which provide tax breaks, simpler planning restrictions and cheaper imports.”

Where the provisions apply, firms will be able to opt for either “duty drawback” – the refund of import duty when goods are re-exported – or from the preferential rates under the free trade agreement, providing they comply with the deal’s “rules of origin” tests, the government said.

Exports of goods to the 23 countries concerned were worth £35.56 billion in 2019, almost 10 per cent of the UK’s total goods exports, Labour said.

Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry has written to international trade secretary Liz Truss to ask her to clarify the situation.

Ms Thornberry said: “Last November, when the Treasury invited applications for its new freeports scheme, the small print warned potential bidders of the prohibition clauses contained in several continuity trade agreements the Department of Trade had signed in the previous two years.

“But, despite that warning, Liz Truss went on to sign trade agreements with 10 more countries containing the same clauses, including key markets like Canada, Singapore and Mexico.

“It would have taken an hour of discussion and the stroke of a pen to explain the UK’s freeports policy to negotiators from these countries and remove the prohibition clauses from those agreements, and I cannot understand why Liz Truss failed to do that.”

A spokesperson for the Solent Freeport bid said in a statement: “Our ambition is for the Solent Freeport to attract £2billion investment and create 52,000 jobs. Focused on the Solent’s most disadvantaged communities, high quality employment space will be created, with investment specifically targeted at state-of-the-art growth sectors and ground-breaking approaches to decarbonisation.

“Partnerships with our three world-class universities and research assets, alongside a dedicated Solent Freeport Green Growth Institute, will provide a centre of excellence in green skills and jobs to ensure local communities – and in particular our young people – can benefit from opportunities created.”