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Minister of Trade speaks on expansion of Freezone

The Corozal Freezone has not really been the “talk of the town,” and, in fact, is in dire need of some TLC. The Freezone has not been forgotten, however, as there are big plans in the making to not only expand but also to revamp it. Minister of Trade, Tracy Taegar-Panton, met with the Freezone’s board of director last Friday, and today, she told us more about what was discussed.

Tracy Taegar-Panton – Minister of Trade: “We have to make some amendments to the Freezone Act so that we can take into consideration some of the compliance issues under the new code of conduct and also as it relates to some of the protocols under the W.T.O. Also, to discuss in more detail the master plan that has been developed in conjunction with the I.D.B. for the expanding of activities within the Corozal Freezone. It was again to review the recommendations that came out of that consultancy so that we can put an action plan together for the implementation of some of those recommendations. The master plan for Corozal not only looks at the Corozal Freezone, that is a primary consideration in the plan but it also looks at expansion at other economic activities in the Corozal District for the northern region of the country. Tourism being one of them, the agro productive sector, expansion of services whether it is through the BPO’s or other services that we may be able to export to other countries including Mexico. Then looking at how the Freezone can be repurposed to ensure that we can benefit from opportunities of our neighboring country but also provide services for companies in Belize.

The minister said that she believes that the Freezone has a lot more potential than just to be used for retail and wholesale shopping. She believes that this expansion will also be able to provide employment for residents of Corozal as well as be able to diversity the economy in the north. She explained more about what the vision for the Freezone is.

Tracy Taegar-Panton – Minister of Trade: “Chronically as the legislation stands Belizeans are not legally permitted to enter the zone and to shop in the zone. It was meant to be utilized primarily by our Mexican neighbors and other neighboring countries. There is a recommendation in the master plan that suggests that we may want to relook at that so that we can re regularize what is happening at the free zone in terms of entry of the local shoppers. Of Course, anything that is going back into Customs territory would have to pay duty on the items that are purchased but those are some of the recommendations that we are working through so that we can regularize what is currently happening in that area. The idea is to have sub-zones within the zones like an entertainment zone, retail zone, zone for light manufacturing, a zone that may be able to offer services such as the BPO sector so to have areas within the zone that can offer different types of services other than retail shopping. What happens next is we have done the consultations certainly with all the stakeholders in the north and we had a special session with the board. We are now going to take the plan to Cabinet now that it has the endorsement and support from the stakeholders for ratification. Once that plan is ratified by Cabinet then we are going to move on an action plan or time frame as to when things can happen. Of Course, we have to review more importantly the regular Tariff framework that governs the free zones in the country because most importantly the country has to remain compliant with international regulations.”

According to Minister Taegar-Panton, the International American Development Bank funded the project proposal and also offered to provide seed capital for the early implementation of the action plan. She also said they will continue seek support of international funding agencies.