COROZAL FREE ZONE, Thurs. Dec. 24, 2020– The closure of the Corozal Free Zone (CFZ), which took place back in March of this year, was one of the first measures instituted to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Ten months later, the CFZ remains closed, and businesses in the free trade area are continuing to grapple with that reality. Cabinet, has decided to keep the free zone closed until they assess the results of the COVID-19 restrictions, and they are hoping those results will include a flattened curve.
The John Briceño administration pledged to fast-track the re-opening of the free zone in time for Christmas, since they expected that a much-needed economic spike would occur in the area, thanks to holiday shopping.
Although the lead negotiator in the discussions about the reopening, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, Jose Mai, remained in conversation with the CFZ Chamber of Commerce to advance the reopening, Cabinet finally decided to put it off until after the holidays.
While Minister Mai has said that deeper analysis of the COVID-19 data in January will help them to make a decision and has attributed the delay to that reasoning, local media has reported that the Government of Belize and the CFZ Chamber of Commerce have reached a bottleneck. The CFZ Chamber of Commerce is purportedly not willing to bear the cost of the reopening plan.
In an interview on December 5, Minister Mai said that a full reopening plan has been put together for the CFZ, and that it would allow approximately 150 businesses to operate.
At the time, he outlined that, “The plan included OIRSA, who will take on some of the responsibilities, some of the spraying, and the sterilization, so to speak.”
“They would do vehicles, they would also do fumigation of humans through the tunnel, a walk-through tunnel, the vehicles would be fumigated, and prior to entering the zone, temperatures will be checked from the people entering the free zone. There will be also people within the free zone walking and at random, taking temperatures from people in the stores,” he had said.
Hon. Mai said that the businesses would have to share the cost of the reopening operation in the free zone, in line with COVID-19 protocols that are currently in place, and additional protocols in place for places of business — a figure amounting almost to the tune of $200,000, the Minister had said.
Ultimately, however, citizens itching to shop in the free zone and the business community in need of some economic injections will ultimately have to wait until sometime in January after the Government completes its assessment of the COVID-19 measures currently in place.