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Dec 21, 2000

Free Zone bustles in Corozal

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Once upon a time, if two Belizeans met in December in the supermarket, chances are it was San Francisco de Assis. And while plenty of our people can still be found stretching their dollars in Chetumal, a whole lot more Mexicans are depositing their pesos south the Hondo. Ann-Marie reports from that rough and tumble capital of capitalism called the Corozal Free Zone.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

It started out with eight duty-free stores in 1983. Seventy-nine retail stores, five gas stations, four restaurants and two manufacturing plants later, the Commercial Free Zone at the Belize/Mexican border has become a bustling centre of commerce. Free Zone chairman Florencio Marin, says the zone has almost nine hundred employees.

Florencio Marin, Chairman, Commercial Free Zone

?Mostly Belizeans, the investors you will find that a lot of Mexicans are here. At least sixty stores are operated by Mexican citizens, they?re allowed to employ a manager to control the financial part of the business, but all the other clerks and vendors are jobs that are reserved for Belizeans.?

These same Belizeans cannot contribute directly to the revenue the government gets, as they?re not allowed to buy from the zone. However, the foreigners they serve make a hefty contribution; particularly at Christmas time.

Nolberto Leiva, Public Relations Officer, CFZ

?Well business in the free zone doubles up at this time, especially during the Christmas rush. Many Mexicans come to the free zone to do their shopping.?.

Ann-Marie Williams

?What to they buy mostly??

Nolberto Leiva

?We can say that they buy a lot of toys for their kids and the items are mostly centred around gifts.?

Florencio Marin

?I think the government has done well this year. Last year we imported into the zone one hundred and twenty-one million dollars worth of goods and that was re-exported to the other side through patrons that come in buses, individuals walking or in their personal vehicles. This year, at this time, I?m afraid we have reached one hundred and forty-five million dollars, so it has grown. Judged from there, government get its one point five percent.?

But all was not well this year with the free zone.

Florencio Marin

?Fuel hasn?t done well this year. There has been a drop in sales because of the high prices on the world market and as you know we import our fuel. So the gasoline station PEMEX in Mexico, they had been able to catch up with us. We still have a portion of the market.?

And there are a few people who have tried to illegally tap into that market; mainly smuggling liquors.

Florencio Marin

?Smuggling is an issue that was rampant a few years ago. It still exists, but it has been considerably reduced. The security has been beefed up and the clearings that have taken place have prevented or made it harder for would be smugglers. Before, they used to throw things over the fence. I won?t deny that it doesn?t exist, but in much, much smaller quantities. It has been controlled.?

Marin says what is not so easy to control are Belizeans who try to stow away in the free zone.

Florencio Marin

?I will agree that on one or two get in. The last thing we found out the other day was that some Belizeans crossed the border, got into Mexican taxis and got into the zone. Security has identified them, so in place we have extra vigil. So those Mexican taxis bringing in Belizeans will be intercepted at the gate and if properly identified they will not be allowed into the zone.?

Ann-Marie Williams

?And although the Commercial Free Zone is designed for Mexicans and non-Belizeans to shop in a tax free atmosphere, the seventy plus bus loads of Mexicans who come across on any given weekend have to cope with a new found challenge.?

Nolberto Leiva

?One of the challenges the Mexicans are facing is the long lines they encounter entering from Mexico into the zone. This is caused by the revision they are subjected to by the Mexican immigration authorities.?

Ann-Marie Williams

?They don?t want them to come over??

Nolberto Leiva

?Well it?s just the they are pressuring the shoppers, trying to discourage them from shopping the zone. That really doesn?t stop them as much, they stay and still manage to come in and it doesn?t really matter the time that they come in.?

And there are reasons they endure the long lines and eventually come in.

Marc Antonio Camacho, Shopper

?Everything is free tax, this is the attraction for the Mexicans.?

Linda Paz, Shopper

?I?m buying shirts for Christmas gifts. They are cheap and of good quality.?

Merchants who set up in the Commercial Free Zone are expecting to have a green Christmas with peak sales this weekend. Anil Hutchandani owns Mirage International, the largest, most modern store in the zone.

Anil Hutchandani, Merchant, Mirage International

?The store?s a bit new, but business is starting to pick up. I think Chetumal is a something like Belize, this time we are going to see lot of last minute shoppers. We have Disney characters as you can see for children and we have other means of promotion.?

Ram Kukreja, Merchant, Kanul Enterprises

?For Christmas it?s okay, we get business mostly on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of the week it?s very slow.?

Marin sys the future of the Commercial Free Zone looks bright as they are now improving and expanding in an effort to sell high quality items.

Florencio Marin

?More European fashions and the latest New York fashions that the good ladies…you know the feminine thing, they will spend more of their husband?s money. So we really hope to zero in, in this area and perfumes without question. So this what I mean, go for the Gucci, fine leather quality stuffs.?

Come 2002, the zone will look a whole lot different.

Florencio Marin

?We are now working closely with Northern Data Processing and its touristic appendage. The Glenn Godfrey and Northern Data Processing will build a hotel that should open its doors to the public in the year 2002.?

Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

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