Ahead of a visit to Teeside, Liz Truss said the government plans to create “the world’s most advanced free port model” as soon as possible.
But critics claimed the scheme would encourage money laundering and tax evasion, and some trade experts have warned that the impact of free ports was mixed.
Free ports are areas inside the UK geographically, but legally outside of the UK customs territory. The Government cites the enterprise zone status granted to London’s Docklands in the 1980s - which helped to regenerate the former port into a financial district - as its ambition for the new free ports.
Ms Truss said free ports would use onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the “gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs”.
However, Labour said free ports represent “a race to the bottom that will have money launderers and tax dodgers rubbing their hands with glee”.
In his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson said free ports would provide thousands of jobs for people in “left-behind areas”.
The Department for International Trade has also launched a Free Ports Advisory Panel which will include ministers from the Department for International Trade and the Treasury.
Panellists include David Cameron’s former special adviser Daniel Korski, who last year wrote in an article for City AM that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for technology firms.
Also on the panel is small business champion Emma Jones, who coordinated an open letter alongside 68 other business owners which warned that no deal would be a “disaster” for small companies.
The panel also includes Tom Clougherty, head of tax at the Centre for Policy Studies, and Eamonn Butler, co-founder and director of the free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute.
The United States has over 250 free trade zones, employing 420,000 people. One such port is in Miami, which sees over 7 million tons of cargo pass through its port every year and firms within the zone can import, warehouse and re-export products duty-free.