Prime Minister of Curacao Gilmar Pisas is looking to Latin America and the Caribbean for lessons that will help his Government’s push to transform his country’s almost 50-year-old free zone sector into a vibrant generator of economic activity and employment.
“We have been interested in learning how several countries… have become very competitive through very intelligent and adequate management of their free trade zones,” he said.
He was addressing the World Free Zone Organization 8th Annual International Conference & Exhibition on Tuesday.
He cited Singapore and Hong Kong as two locations that have done particularly well with their free zones, then turned his attention closer to home.
“There is, for instance, the case with the Dominican Republic, where its free zones will end this year providing 200,000 direct jobs and...60 per cent of total exports for a value exceeding US$7 billion,” said Pisas.
Other islands in the Americas that also have a free trade zone regime are Puerto Rico and the nearby country of Haiti which shares a bi-national trade zone with the Dominican Republic. Jamaica also has a vibrant free zone sector.
Established in 1975, Curacao’s free zone was one of the first of 79 in the world.
“Today, we are very proud to be still part of the more than 7,000 free zones around the world… The ambition and commitment of the Government of Curacao is to develop our free zones into a vibrant generator of economic activities and employment so that in the future, we can continue having our free zones as a key economic pillar and catalyst for resilient economic growth,” stated Pisas.
“We have to become judicious students in understanding the experiences of free trade zones around the world. We recently went to Dubai where… more than 30 free trade zones generate about 40 per cent of total exports and have added significantly to… its economic development trajectory,” he added.
He identified five factors that make Curacao the ideal location for free zones. Its youthful, multilingual population, he said, makes it attractive to investors. He also pointed to Curacao’s “clean and renewable energy matrix of about 35 per cent” and its potential as “the headquarters of important data centres and other sophisticated services such as wellness and medical tourism, technology and even the filming of movies”.
Pisas also highlighted two advantages his country has over international competitors.
“Firstly, the ability to export to the European Union — and especially to the Netherlands — duty-free final products made from Latin American and Caribbean raw materials. And secondly, it also enjoys preferential treatment with the United States within the Caribbean Basin Initiative,” he said.
He also told the gathering that the Government of Curacao recently approved a national export strategy with a focus on strengthening the economy and supporting the export of goods and services to stimulate foreign exchange earnings by applying technology and innovation in existing traditional sectors and by stimulating new centres.
“The new Curacao free trade zones will have modern legislation that will be compatible with the world trade organisations’ standards and rules, as well as a new dispensation for economic cooperation and development globally,” stated Pisas.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are absolutely sure that the new free trade zones of Curacao will change the history and the quality of life of our country by generating new jobs, new opportunities and new experts that will take advantage of the full potential,” he assured.