Political observers, specifically from the Peopleís United Party, have voiced concerns in regards to the Corozal Free Zone. In our interview with Leader of the Opposition yesterday, John Briceno made reference to the Free Zone as he spoke on economic development. Briceno says there are concerns with the zone and if Government does not address the situation urgently, there could be a collapse of the Corozal Free Zone. Today, Love News took a trip to the Zone to see how it was performing. Hipolito Novelo reports.

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“Some say that business at the Corozal Free Zone is dying slowly. Executive Chairman, Gregory Gibson, disagrees.”

GREGORY GIBSON

“In terms of the trade we have seen the Free zone Increase its trade to a high of where we were collecting on behalf of government as recently as last year $12.4 million annually, that has never been achieved so I would definitely disagree that the sky is falling and that the zone is closing down. I’m not aware that there is any employee in the over 600 plus stores that we have in the zone that are being terminated so I’d certainly disagree.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“Today, for the while we were at the Corozal Free Zone, business seemed low.”

BHUVAN CHAUDHRI (Businessman)

“Business for me has been bad, I’ve closed two stores already because I can’t even pay rent that is why I’ve been finding places where I can spent the least rent but so far it’t not helping.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO

“Are you considering changing what you sell?”

BHUVAN CHAUDHRI

“No because right now I’m not planning to invest anything more in the zone until I see the situation more or less.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO

“How long would you say that business has been bad?”

BHUVAN CHAUDHRI

“I’ll say it’s been bad for more than a year.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO

“Would this be the normal activity of the Free zone?”

BHUVAN CHAUDHRI

“This is not the normal activity but these days even Saturday or Sunday you would see crowds but they are not the people who buy so we don’t have much sales here.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO

“Is there anything that you’re doing to attract people to at least come into your store?”

BHUVAN CHAUDHRI

“We put offers and we put everything cheap even with the exchange prices we are losing and we still try to put the prices cheap so that we can have some customers.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO

“Are you considering moving out of the Free zone?”

BHUVAN CHAUDHRI

“I am in fact if six months more this continues I will have to leave.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“Bhuvan Chaudri has been running his business for about seven years. His rent is one thousand three hundred US dollars. He had four employees but now he only has one. He stands in front of his store trying to convince customers to at least look at his merchandise. According to Gibson, every year the zone experiences a high level of income and a low level of income. He says there are several factors to consider. Tens of thousands of visitors enter the Free Zone every year. Most of them are Mexicans- the intended target with the intent to amass foreign exchange.”

GREGORY GIBSON

“Like any business there the Free zone has it’s ebbs and flows, our largest customer is our neighbors to the north and so from an economic stand point if they are affected in their buying power the zone is likewise affected. In recent times we have seen the devaluation of the Mexican Peso starting in the 80s and in more recent times about five years ago and more recently we’ve been having a continuous decline to go along with the devaluation in the price of fuel. What that means is that on the black market side you will find the US that was being traded for $8 is now being traded for $18 so the Mexicans don’t have the buying power.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“More than three hundred businesses operate inside the Free Zone and about six hundred companies are registered there. Itís a mini autonomous economic hub- a highly sensitive economic hub. Anything that happens on the Mexican side of the border can directly affect, whether negative or positive, business at the Free Zone.”

GREGORY GIBSON

“Well you may note that when the new customs facility was built in Mexico it essentially strangled off Santa Elena, that meant that the Pollo Brujos that you had here and the hotels that were opening up and the stores and the whole atmosphere that was being created there suffered. Consequently the citizens who are from that area have sought business in the zone buying and selling in nearby Chetumal so that has disrupted their lifestyle and they actually depend on the existence of the zone to make some of their living.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“On the weekends, about two thousand vehicles enter the Free Zone. During the week, about three thousand do.”

GREGORY GIBSON

“The zone is huge, the zone employees about 3,000 people in various aspects of the business that we have in the area and in this entire area the zone provides employment to single mothers, sometimes several family members from the same family and in the economic area of Las Vegas and Princess you’re talking about at least 4,000 and 5,000 people in this area so it’s an important hub in the north.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“But Gibson has yet to be satisfied with the performance of the Free Zone.”

GREGORY GIBSON

“We are not satisfied ever. We see the need to grow the zone to meet the expanding economy of the nation, we see the opportunity of 20 to 30 million Mexicans in towns across the borders a market that we can provide service to, we see the need to diversify the zone to other areas and to look at the whole Santa Elena border as an economic area providing employment, entertainment, cultural diversification, providing alternatives to both what Chetumal and the rest of the country offers. We see the zone as an opportunity for tourists to come into and perhaps as a hub to visit other Mayan Center so it’s important.”

LOVEFM