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Uncertainty looms even as Free Zone gears up for reopening

The Corozal Free Zone was opened in 1994 with an aim to attract foreign investments and to add to Belize’s revenue stream.  Several reports have shown a severe decline in revenue from the zone as well as the closure of multiple businesses as well as a decline in employment.  In today’s economic climate the Government of Belize is hoping that the reopening of the zone will trigger some movement in the economy.  According to CEO Baeza, all factors considered, it is hard or perhaps even impossible to project what level of revenues the country could see trickling in from the zone.

Servulo Baeza, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Enterprise:  In terms of the importation I believe for the normal year I think the year before was something close to $70 million was imported into the Free Zone.”

Reporter: Are we expecting perhaps, what are we projecting in terms of revenue at least considering the pandemic and all ? 

Servulo Baeza, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Enterprise:  It’s really hard to say. We have asked them but we really don’t know. I could almost say it’s like tourism. We can reopen up and reopen the airport but that does not mean that the tourists will come back the following day, the same thing with the Free Zone so it’s very hard for me to give you a figure because we did ask them but it’s very difficult especially remember that the peak of the zone activity should have been right now in December that was the peak of the season and I can almost say we missed that particular season right now. If we’re looking to open in mid January I think it will be very slow because we already lost all the business, it doesn’t pick up again until about Easter you know? It’s a seasonal thing also that we have to look at but I think the businesses in the zone want to try, they see it as essential so the zone does not die because the longer we take to open the Free Zone the fear of the businesses in there is that eventually some will just go out of business, people will forget about the Free Zone and the Mexicans will forget about the Free Zone and I mean that will be even more devastating to us in the long run.”

In one 2019 report produced by consultants commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank, it noted, quote, “the Corozal Free Zone was established to attract foreign investment into Belize, driving economic growth through the export of consumer goods. In 2015, the zone was home to 400 businesses employing 3,000 workers. The zone is an important contributor to national exports, with exports equivalent to 11% of Belize’s total in 2017. However, the Free Zone has declined with sales decreasing by 14% between 2015 and 2017.  The Free Zone also suffers from a lack of clear direction; official objectives are broad, with a large range for interpreting these objectives. The local area suffers from deteriorating infrastructure due to lack of maintenance, and the CFZ is negatively affected by a perception that the Free Zone is susceptible to risks of money laundering and other illicit activities. It is also clear that the zone is not embedded in the economy of the wider Corozal District.”  End of quote.  According to the Government of Belize, with a new leader at the helm and a new board and CEO commissioned for the free zone it is the hope that its management would bring new hope for the country.