A new duty-free zone must be properly executed, stakeholders say

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A number of voices in the business and yachting sectors responded to the suggestion of creating a duty-free zone in the Nelson’s Dockyard by cautioning that such a measure needs to be well executed and would be fruitless unless it improves on existing models.
Both the President of the Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association (ABMA) Franklyn Braithwaite and well-known sailor and businessman Archie Bailey said the idea of a duty-free zone in the Nelson’s Dockyard had been pitched in the past.
Braithwaite said, “It’s definitely something that, if done, should be sorted out properly – not like a quick fix. If it is [done properly] I can see it being beneficial.”
Bailey argued that tourists “will easier buy something in English Harbour where they have more time than to buy it in St John’s” and added that the steady revenue in such a zone had the potential to generate some employment.
Bailey added that yachtsmen already have some mechanisms by which they buy fuel and other goods with the duty waived but said that the type of commercial activity present in Heritage Quay’s duty-free zone does not exist at the Dockyard.
The President of the Heritage Quay Merchants Association Elijah James told OBSERVER media that “once we can sort out the whole issue of regulations” he could see more duty-free and other special economic zones (SEZs) “benefitting everybody”.
 “For us, the issue in Heritage Quay … A lot of tourists do not like having to present their passport or even boarding passes in order to make a purchase. They wonder why they are already paying with cash or a card and they still need the documentation,” James said.
He argued that another duty-free or similar zone presented an opportunity to adopt lessons learnt by those who do business in Heritage Quay – where there is duty-free shopping.
James also argued that residents should be allowed to shop in the duty-free zones without being hindered or barred by regulations.
 “If we can have locals coming to shop it would offset times when there are no cruise ships or low hotel occupancy. Trying to steer people away is pointless,” he said.
On Thursday Minister of Information Melford Nicholas told the media that the Cabinet of Antigua & Barbuda had agreed that more SEZs should be operationalised and called the Dockyard “a key developmental area for an enhanced and improved tourist product”.
Nicholas added that legislation would be a prerequisite to more SEZs.
Economist Everett Christian has told OBSEVRER media that further clarity was needed as to what type of SEZ or tax exempt activity the government had conceived for the Dockyard and other places.
Christian said, “A duty-free shop is not the same thing as a duty-free zone. When you speak of a zone you mean that anything within the perimeter shall be free of duty and taxes – not just a shop selling duty free goods. A lot of people confuse the two.”

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