The Free Port of Trieste is unique in the Italian and EU legal system, above all because of the historical and political events surrounding its establishment and, more generally, those involving the territory of Trieste. Historically, first under the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, and then under the Kingdom of Italy, the Port of Trieste has always enjoyed special privileges in organisational and legal terms, which have enhanced its status as a place of international trade in a strategic geographical area.
After the Second World War, the Free Port of Trieste was “internationalised” by the Peace Treaty between Italy and the victorious powers, signed in Paris on 10 February 1947 and, in particular, by articles 1-20 of Annex VIII “Instrument for the Free Port of Trieste” and articles 34 and 35 of Annex VI “Permanent Statute of the Free Territory of Trieste”.
The primary instrument governing the legal regime of the Free Port of Trieste is Annex VIII to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. References contained in the Annex to the Free Territory and its legislative and government bodies must be construed in the light of historical and political changes that took place after the signing of the 1947 Peace Treaty, namely the decision to dissolve the Free Territory and Italy’s subsequent assumption of international responsibility for the city and the Port of Trieste under the Memorandum of Understanding signed in London in 1954. Moreover, because of the change in circumstances, the Memorandum established that the Italian Government would maintain the Free Port of Trieste “in general accordance” with the provisions of articles 1-20 of Annex VIII, thereby acknowledging that the provisions of articles 21-26 of the Annex (for establishing international bodies for consultation, control and arbitration to ensure implementation of the Free Port legal regime) had lapsed due to the supervening impossibility of implementation. Articles 1-20 contain the fundamental principles of governance of the Free Port, serving as the general parameters of reference for the Italian State on which to enact appropriate legislation. Commissarial Decrees no. 29/1955 and no. 53/1959 contain important provisions in this regard, serving to establish special regulations in relation to the international obligation.
In general, the principles of Annex VIII are implemented in international agreements (such as those with Austria in 1955 and 1985, and with Hungary in 1988 for the use of the Free Port of Trieste), in legislation and other official regulations or acts concerning the mode of operation and administrative procedures for implementing the Free Port regime, which indeed, over time need to be revised and improved for changes in traffic and the demands of trade. Likewise, even the perimeter of the Free Zones must be able to be modified for changes in traffic, by redefining the areas subject to the Free Port regime, without prejudice to the overall operation of the regime. The only restriction on implementation is the presumption that such activities are consistent with the internationally guaranteed regime; in other words, the exceptions applying to the Free Port of Trieste are intimately related to compliance with the international obligation, especially if they are to be enforceable at European Union level.
The international role of the Free Port of Trieste, which currently includes five distinct Free Zones, three of which reserved for commercial activities (Old Free Zone, New Free Zone, Timber Terminal) and two used for industrial activities (Mineral Oils Free Zone, Zaule Channel Free Zone) is to “ensure that the port and the transit facilities of Trieste will be available for use on equal terms by all international trade in such manner as is customary in other free ports of the world” ( art. 1, Annex VIII).
The Free Port of Trieste is political territory of the Italian State. Italian and European Union laws cannot, however, restrict the freedoms relating to customs duties and operations guaranteed by the Peace Treaty and its instruments of implementation. The legal status of the Free Port of Trieste is essentially embodied in two regimes: unrestricted access and transit and customs clearance exemption.
With regard to unrestricted access to the port, Annex VIII establishes free movement of goods and services and freedom of access and of transit without any discrimination and without customs duties or charges other than those levied for services rendered (see articles 1, 5, 10, 16 of Annex VIII; articles 2, 3, 6 and 7 of Commissarial Decree 29/1955; articles 6 and 7 of Commissarial Decree 53/1959). The rules intended to promote international trade, by removing every barrier or obstacle to the free provision of services and movement of goods and means of transit, are of great significance since this international regime is a forerunner of the single market within the European Union.
As regards the customs regime, the Free Zones of the Port of Trieste enjoy the legal status of customs clearance exemption, which involves a whole series of beneficial operating conditions for the Free Port of Trieste. This is undoubtedly the biggest area of difference between the regulations of the Free Port of Trieste and national and EU ones.
This is an online computer system introduced by the Port Authority in 2009 – with new functions later added – to allow goods entering the Free Zones of the Port of Trieste by sea or by land to be traced in compliance with EU security regulations, while nonetheless respecting the special rules of the Trieste Free Zones and so maintaining the privileged regime of customs clearance exemption.
L’applicazione sic et simpliciter al Porto di Trieste delle procedure previste dalle norme di sicurezza previste dai Regolamenti (CE) n. 648/2005 e n. 1875/2006 avrebbe infatti comportato un appesantimento degli adempimenti doganali e dei controlli, penalizzando il Porto di Trieste.
If the procedures required by the security rules of Regulations (EC) no. 648/2005 and no. 1875/2006 had been applied directly to the Port of Trieste, this would have made customs formalities and controls more onerous and so have penalised the Port.
The Black Box acquires the information from the point goods enter the Free Zones and follows their movement between the various concession holders and other operators until their departure by sea or by land. It is therefore able to identify who is holding the goods at any one time, with this party being responsible for the goods in every respect.
The system’s guidelines have been agreed with the customs authorities and other institutional bodies involved with the Port of Trieste, with whom technical working groups have been formed and are constantly active.
FREE ZONES AROUND THE WORLD
Free Zones, Free Trade Zones, Foreign Trade Zone, Free Ports, Industrial Free Zones, Export Processing Zones, Export Free Zones, Special Economic Zones, Duty Free Zones, Enterprise Zones, Maquiladoras, Science Parks & Technological Free Zones: these are some of the many terms used in the various countries around the world to denote an institution that dates back to the times of the Phoenicians, the Chaldeans, the Carthaginians, and the cities of the Hanseatic League, and that has had an astonishing growth over the last 60 years. From a handful of zones in the postwar period, to 300 in the 1980s, 600 in the 1990s, through to the thousands of current times, spread over every continent, in developing and non-developing countries. According to an estimate by the International Labour Organisation, there are now more than 3,500 free zones in 130 countries, generating 66 million jobs.
With the exception of the EU free zones, whose uniform legal regime is laid down in the Community Customs Code, the legal rules of free zones around the world are characterised by a lack of international uniformity, which is found not only in terminology but also in the legal framework. There are no international conventions and treaties – except for Annex VIII to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty on the Free Port of Trieste – and no global mechanisms for the approval of free zones, which do not enjoy equal representation in the international organisations that nonetheless supervise them (eg. the International Labour Organisation, World Trade Organisation, etc.).
In addition to “customs” type of incentives (exemption from customs formalities and controls, as well as from customs duties on raw materials used in industrial production, etc.), the most frequent incentives offered by the free zones include tax ones (exemption from taxes and duties or significant reduction in tax rates), those relating to labour regulations (eg. flexibility of the rules on the recruitment of staff and granting of temporary work and residence permits for foreigners employed in the free zone), those relating to the simplification of administrative procedures (eg. concessions and licences), to services, including offshore, etc.
Many of the incentives mentioned above are not present in the free zones of the European Union because they are inconsistent with EU rules on state aid that severely restrict the creation of special economic zones capable of responding to competition from neighbouring free zones, eg. in North Africa.
By virtue of the so-called safeguard clause in art. 307 of the EU Treaty, the Free Port of Trieste, meaning the sum of all its “Free Zones”, is the only free zone in the European Union that enjoys a more favourable special regime than the more restrictive one laid down by the Community Customs Code for the single market’s free zones and free warehouses.
ADVANTAGES OF THE FREE PORT OF TRIESTE
- non-discriminatory right of entry of ships and cargo, irrespective of their destination, origin and nature, with the possibility of staying there for an indefinite period, free of duty, taxes or other charges other than those levied for services rendered, with no need for authorisation for loading, unloading, transhipment, movement and storage, and with no obligation to identify a customs destination for such cargo, which can be decided by the operator at a later date
- prohibition on customs intervention (and thus customs control of goods entering and leaving the Free Zones, which takes place only at the free-zone crossing points) when loading and unloading goods, except for specific exceptions under economic, health and public safety regulations (some goods, such as those under monopolies, weapons, drugs, pocketable items, must be placed in special warehouses supervised by Customs). Community goods are treated as leaving customs territory when they cross into the Free Zones, with the entry of EU goods into the Trieste Free Zones representing an export transaction not subject to VAT
- no time limit on the storage of goods
- no customs formalities to be completed as long as the goods stay in the Free Zones
- no customs duties to pay or to guarantee as long as the goods are in the Free Zones
- lower harbour dues than other Italian ports
- simplified transit for commercial vehicles directed abroad that are in transit to/from the Port of Trieste
- simplified customs system for the transit of goods by rail
- manipulation of goods permitted (eg. packaging, repackaging, labelling, sampling, eliminating brands, etc.) as well as their industrial transformation, completely free from any customs bond
- application of the customs deferred payment scheme, whereby duties and taxes on goods imported into the EU market through the Free Zones can be paid up to six months after the date of customs clearance at a particularly low annual interest rate (50% of 6M Euribor)
- mixtures of every kind may be made within the bonded area between products subject to excise duty
- customs status of goods (foreign country, EU free circulation without payment of VAT, import, export, transit) can be changed without the need to physically move the goods
- operators can access other alternative treatments permitted by EU and/or national legislation (eg. tax deposits, VAT deposits), if more favourable, with consequent compliance with the requirements of such rules
- possibility of extending the Free Zones
- application of practices used in other free ports around the world