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Aug 11, 2020

Corozal Free Zone at a Standstill Months after Pandemic Induced Closure

The borders in the north and west are closed indefinitely.  To the north, Mexico is placed at number three globally for the explosion of the corona virus. Quintana Roo is seeing growing numbers so the re-opening of the Corozal Free Zone is not likely to be anytime soon.  Hundreds of employees have been sent home and their return to work is up in the air. One of the most established businesses has shuttered permanently and others may follow. So what’s next for the free zone? News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks for answers.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Corozal Free Zone remains a virtual ghost town several months after it was forced to discontinue operation near the northern border with Mexico.  For years, the customs-free area generated millions of dollars in revenue from scores of Mexican shoppers who come across to purchase goods and services.  COVID-19 has brought all commercial activity to an indefinite standstill.


Anil Hotchandani

Anil Hotchandani, Vice Chairman, Corozal Free Zone

“COVID has caused an unprecedented effect on human and economic life.  This was evident of the fact that A&R, as all the country is aware, has closed its doors.  A&R was one of the first pioneers, pioneering companies that had opened in the Corozal Free Zone and this just goes to say that when big companies like A&R are having difficulties, imagine the problems that the other companies are going to face.  I think it’s the beginning of what has happened and there will be many more situations like this.  I think the measures taken in place to contain the COVID-19 has led to the triggering of the slowdown in, not slowdown, practically shutting down of all economic activity in the Corozal Free Zone.”


Anil Hotchandani, Vice Chairman of the Corozal Free Zone, told News Five earlier today the situation is dire, as most employees have been sent home for an unspecified length of time.


Anil Hotchandani

“It’s a very sad situation in the sense of the employees, most of them have been laid off indefinitely.  Depending on what’s going to be happening with the Free Zone, when it comes to businesses they have closed and government has been setting up these boost packages and giving some relief to employees.  It hasn’t been reaching some employees, a lot of them have been complaining that they don’t get it.  We keep trying to assist them with getting it, but to answer your question, a lot of the employees have lost their jobs indefinitely.”


While PM Barrow had initially okayed the importation of goods into the free zone for onward exportation, the lack of direct sales to persons entering the location has crippled businesses.  According to Hotchandani, it has also contributed to the dearth of foreign exchange in the country.


Anil Hotchandani

“Prime Minister has allowed the free zone, the imports to just go out, exported out of the free zone without having customer to customer contact to avoid the spread of the pandemic.  But that also is getting challenged now as the banks cannot continue to take deposits because of the airports being closed, the usually need the feds to come and transport the money.  So they have issues with that.  So that also is starting to lead to other problems and the outlook is very, very grim at the moment unfortunately for most of the businesses operating in the Corozal Free Zone.”


With losses amounting to millions of dollars since March, the next move is for business owners to seek permission from the Customs and Excise Department to allow for those items to be placed on the local market after all relevant taxes and duties have been paid.


Anil Hotchandani

“Nobody expected the situation to go this far and we don’t know how long it’s going to be.  Initially we thought it would be a month, month and a half and things would come back to normal but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  I think businesses are now at the point that they are going to approach the Customs authorities to allow them to pay the relevant tax and duties and to allow them to put them into the customs territory where they can sell it because otherwise, it is going to become dead stock.  I know some of the small supermarkets in the little Indian stores that operate in the zone who deal mostly in perishables, they’ve been having problems because their goods are literally dying on the shelves.  So that’s not the case with general merchandise.  General merchandise will now approach the government and the relevant authorities so that they allow the importation back into the customs territory.  I think that should happen soon.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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