We are pleased to inform you that the Cabinet has met on January 12th, 2021 where the opening of the Corozal Free Zone was tabled for discussion. Cabinet has agreed that the Corozal Free Zone would resume operations on February 1st, 2021. Therefore, we urge all investors who have not yet collected their contribution letter for the opening of the CFZ to please do so now and to make their contribution promptly. This will allow us to purchase the sanitation tunnel, tablets, and other equipment necessary for the implementation of health and safety protocols as recommended by the Health Department to minimize Covid-19 cases.
Kindly be advised to finalize all arrangements and preparations to meet health department standards and regulations. Clearance from the Health Inspector is a prerequisite for any company wishing to resume operations. You can contact the District Public Health Inspector Mr. Harris Patten Jr. at 622-6548 or 613-4225 or you can also email him at [email protected] to set an appointment for the on-site inspection.
If you have any question or concern kindly contact us at our main office during working hours. The Corozal Free Zone management wishes you and your company a prosperous 2021.
Mr. Neri Ramirez Chief Executive Officer Corozal Free Zone
Re: The Opening of the Corozal Free Zone
#547477 01/13/2105:52 AM01/13/2105:52 AM
Corozal Free Zone to Reopen for Business on February 1st
Minister Mai confirmed to News Five that cabinet decided that the Corozal Free Zone will be reopened on February first. Its reopening was one of the manifesto promises of the party. The free zone had been closed for almost a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of persons became unemployed in the north. Initially, the free zone should have reopened before the Christmas holidays, but that did not materialize. This was because the Corozal Chamber of Commerce, which consists of business owners from within the zone, was unwilling to pay for the costs of retrofitting for sanitization measures – a bill of a little over one hundred thousand dollars. Minister Mai says that a task force to ensure minimum risks has been created.
Jose Mai, Minister of Enterprise
“This gives the investors and the free zone management time to prepare all the facilities, the measures the structures in place that would ensure that people are safe in the free zone. This means that OIRSA will be doing a part of the sanitation. They will be doing the spraying of vehicles, the walk-in tunnels where you walk through. There will be people checking temperatures before they get in. and every store has to be well prepared with wash hands, soaps and all these gels that they use that will prevent the disease from being spread or people to get infested with the virus.”
From before the general election, one of the PUP's campaign promises was to re-open the free zone which had been forced closed due to COVID concerns coming over from Mexico.
And now a date has been set. 7News has since received a copy of a letter that the CEO of the Free Zone has sent to the business owners in the zone. In it, the CEO says, that the Government has decided that the Zone will open on February 1st.
That letter says, quote, "Cabinet has agreed that the Corozal Free Zone would resume operations on February 1st, 2021â€¦ Kindly be advised to finalize all arrangements and preparations to meet health department standards and regulations. Clearance from the Health Inspector is a prerequisite for any company wishing to resume operations." End quote.
Today, our colleagues from CTV3 News got a teleconference interview with the Vice-Chairman of the Free Zone's Board of Directors. Here's what he had to about the health and safety features that will be installed to prepare for the Zone's opening during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Anil Hotchandani, Vice Chair - BOD - Corozal Free Zone "Government had made a election promise that they will open the free zone and they are true to their promise. They have started to even before the opening of the free zone they had built an approach road which was badly needed. Besides that they are putting in place safety protocols, because that has been the number one point of concern for them that they want to open the zone but they want it to be a safe area. We don't want the pandemic to spread. Safety protocols are being put in place with the direction of the ministry of health. All the stores have certain protocols that they need to accomplish by putting wash basins, putting hand sanitizers, wearing of the mask that's going to be very important, plus the CEO of the free zone and the chairman - they almost completed the building of the sanitizing tunnels where people will be walking through. These are all the things that are happening. All the businesses needs to clean up their stores and meet all those requirements. They will be inspected by the health inspector and once they are in compliant they will be allowed to open."
According to Hotchandani, the Management of the Free Zone and the business have arrived at an agreement on how the costs for these new safety features will be covered.
The Corozal Free Zone (CFZ) is scheduled to reopen on February 1, 2021. The date was set after Cabinet discussed the matter and appointed an inter-ministerial committee to review plans and protocols for the reopening.
The CEO of the CFZ, Neri Ramirez, has advised business owners and investors in the Free Zone of the date so preparations can be made. Businesses must ensure that they have adequate facilities to safeguard health and are properly prepared to follow all public health protocols. Readiness preparations also include hiring 15 compliance officers to monitor businesses and visitors to the Free Zone and the acquisition of equipment by the CFZ to ensure that sanitizing and health safety monitoring are done properly.
Equipment will include a walk-in tunnel and temperature monitor at the entrance of the Free Zone. Rapid tests will also be available to be administered to anyone showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19. The compliance officers are being trained to use the equipment as well as in monitoring and enforcing the protocols by personnel from the Ministry of Health and Wellness. OIRSA personnel will disinfect all vehicles before being allowed entrance to the Free Zone.
It is important to note that the CFZ is being opened only to Mexican nationals and that businesses will only be allowed 1/3 of their normal staff complement when they open. The Ministries of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise; Tourism and Diaspora Relations; Health and Wellness; and Home Affairs and New Growth Industries are collaborating on the protocols and measures in connection with the opening. The cost of the reopening is being covered by the CFZ businesses.
Re: The Opening of the Corozal Free Zone
#547562 01/16/2112:07 PM01/16/2112:07 PM
Corozal Free Zone to open with strict protocols & only 1,000 employees return to work.
When it comes to the Corozal Free Zone reopening, Minister Musa says the COVID-19 prevention protocols will be stringent and will only allow one-third of employees to return to work. As we’ve reported, Cabinet decided to reopen the Free Zone on February first and formed an inter-ministerial committee to review plans and protocols for the reopening. Part of the readiness includes the hiring of compliance officers to monitor activities in the Corozal Free Zone and the installation of a walk-in tunnel, temperature monitor, and rapid testing for anyone showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19. Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa sits on the committee.
Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs
“We had a meeting yesterday, the committee met to discuss the regulations. They are going to be a little more stringent than the normal regulations so we have to look at that very carefully because there is always this tug-of-war between business and the economy and the healthcare and wellness of our people. So, we have to look at those regulations and there have been. So, we have to look at those regulations, we have been, and there was an initial presentation made by the Ministry of Health yesterday and we are in agreement with all of those regulations and that will be put to cabinet next Tuesday for consideration.”
“Minister, the new variant of the virus is already detected in Mexico and there is a lot of concern about that and how it will be managed. Is this being taken into consideration?”
“Absolutely. Absolutely. The restrictions we are going to be implementing in Free Zone have to be extremely stringent; the checks; monitoring; oversight has to be very regular. The Ministry of Health will play an active role in overseeing the implementation and constantly monitoring the business taking place within the free zone that there is full compliance by all businesses, by all patrons to these establishments. So, that is very critical moving forward because we are looking to as much as one thousand employees going back to work in the free zone, initially it was around three thousand employees but we are looking to take about one third of those employees back.”
Twenty Percent of Consumer Traffic at CFZ after Reopening
After almost a year of inactivity, the Corozal Free Zone was reopened to business on February first. That’s because a raft of new measures was put in place to ensure that the potential spread of COVID-19 was kept at an extreme minimum. Even with all things in place, however, the customs-free shopping area is still not realizing the profits it once enjoyed before the pandemic struck. In fact, the Corozal Free Zone is not firing on all pistons, with only twenty percent of shoppers crossing over from Mexico on a weekly basis. News Five’s Isani Cayetano visited the northern border today and has a follow up to our initial story on its reopening.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Since resuming commercial activity at the beginning of the month, traffic at the Corozal Free Zone is still only a trickle. Things are slowly returning to normal at the duty-free shopping space, but local investors are now faced with another challenge. Just across the Subteniente Lopez Bridge at the northern border, another retail district has also been opened to Mexican consumers.
Anil Hotchandani, Vice Chairman, Corozal Free Zone
“I look at it positively, I think that free zone is going to be importing everything from our Port of Belize, all the imports from a logistical point of view. One of the ideas, [and] we can work hand in hand, we can have a trade agreement between the two. I think our customer base for the entire Corozal Free Zone is Mexico. In Chetumal Free Zone, we can sell through them in Mercado Libre. Mercado Libre is their version of Amazon. So they can showcase, you know, our products on the web and they have the logistics to ship out and collect which is impossible for us to do from Corozal Free Zone.”
It’s a progressive way of viewing competition, by forging a partnership that is mutually beneficial for stakeholders on either side of the Rio Hondo. In Belize, however, business is only a fifth of what it once was before the pandemic brought the economy to its knees.
“The traffic and the movement of people are staggering, I think because the pandemic is still quite rampant in Mexico they are slow but sure. We are experiencing from the highest point when we were at a hundred percent of shoppers, we are at twenty percent now. So we’re getting in probably three to four hundred cars a day, you can say about three to four thousand cars a week, with three passengers per car. [That’s] about eleven thousand people that are visiting the zone, mostly Mexicans.”
That figure represents a fraction of the business that ordinarily takes place on a weekly basis at the Corozal Free Zone. For Vice Chairman Anil Hotchandani, today is still better than where they were a year ago when everything ground to a screeching halt.
“Something is better than nothing. You know when you have had a situation when you were at zero. Businesses totally closed down and there was zero income, people had to find ways and means to survive. So that has been the situation. When the pandemic hit, remember I’ve always said this, the government steps in to help employees, food packages, social security comes in with financial assistance. Social partners come in and try to help out. But for one minute, who helps the business community?”
Notwithstanding what Hotchandani describes as abandonment in a time of need, there is optimism that the Corozal Free Zone will rebound fully, even if it takes a year to get back on its feet.
“There’s positivity in the air. The Briceño administration has opened the zone successfully, safely and this has had a substantial benefit for the employees who have gotten jobs in the zone to start.”
“Now I understand that it’s like one-third of the employee population that’s back at the free zone?”
“Yes, you have a little over a thousand [employees]. It’s like one thousand, thirty-five [workers] but if you translate that to money, it’s ten million dollars annually and if the whole free zone was to come back to a hundred percent of employment, we would be at forty million in salaries and remunerations and you will add another ten or fifteen million on social fees that the free zone, that the government earns by way of social fees. We would have fifty to sixty million Belize dollars annually to the G.D.P. from the northern free zone.”
For now, that contribution to Belize’s gross domestic product by way of peak economic activity at the free zone remains a distant target. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.