The European Commission said on 24 July it is considering how to address the financial risks of free port zones, highlighting them as an emerging threat as the bloc tries to clamp down on money laundering.
Incoming UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed the creation of free ports — trading zones in which little or no tax is applied — to boost trade after Brexit. While Britain closed its last free ports in 2012, more than 80 exist across the EU.
Describing them as “the new emerging threat,” European Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová told reporters: “This is something we want to focus more on.”
A Commission report on money laundering listed free ports alongside the football industry, golden passports schemes and virtual currencies as new areas of exposures.
The trading zones facilitate movement of fake goods, as they “allow counterfeiters to land consignments, adapt or otherwise tamper with loads or associated paperwork, and then re-export products without customs intervention,” the report warned.
“In most EU free ports or customs warehouses ... precise information on the beneficial owners is not available,” the report added.
The Commission said countries should implement regular independent audits of the zones.
“Regardless of Brexit, we have strong anti-money laundering legislation,” said Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, when asked about the issue of free ports in the UK “The question here is how this anti-money laundering legislation is being applied, and that’s what we are currently concentrating on — how to improve enforcement within the EU.”