Free Trade Zones

Special economic zones compromised by poor infrastructure

This government’s failure to put in place basic requirements to successfully attract investors threatens to sabotage the government’s stated intentions for special economic zones (SEZs), says Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo.

MP Tancoo, speaking in Parliament yesterday, noted that while other countries around the world have been able to derive substantial benefits from the establishment of these SEZs, they have ensured its success by also putting in place the appropriate infrastructure to ensure investor confidence.

MP Tancoo said investors are watching our ports, crime levels, roads, health care, international ratings by credit agencies, poverty levels and utility services including supply in water, to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a potential investment site and this government is failing under all these factors.

What would potential investors discover by looking at Trinidad and Tobago today? According to the MP for Oropouche West, “Under this Rowley government, the value of production in this country has collapsed by over $30 billion in real terms. This is why more than 6,000 SMEs closed their doors and more than 112,000 jobs were lost. With the government’s constant plundering of the Heritage and Stabilization Fund, $2.5 billion in savings was lost. With the worsening of the currency crisis and the fall of international credit ratings, the country has been downgraded since 2015 by all reputable international rating agencies. Today we are witnessing soaring food prices and a growing rate of inflation. These factors will not encourage any investor.

The success of these economic zones depends on the government addressing these very basic issues facing the citizens and the country. Instead, the state seems to believe that the country is doing well or that investors will not experience the crises around us.

There is no connection between what is proposed and the realities of the country.

For example, MP Tancoo noted that the Minister of Trade and Industry had indicated that agriculture/agri-processing was considered a priority area for development in these economic zones. Yet, over the past 6 years, this government has done nothing to protect, stimulate or develop this essential sector. Tancoo noted that over the past two years, the finance minister has allocated $500 million in the 2021 budget specifically for an agricultural incentive program. This money was not spent, but another $300 million was allocated again in 2022 for the same purpose. How can they propose the development of the agricultural sector and agro-industry as a special economic zone when even the productive capacity of agriculture in this country has been compromised due to the negligence of this administration. Farmers in West Oropouche continue to be plagued by flooding, poor drainage and access roads, large-scale predial theft, as well as difficulties in accessing fiscal and tax incentives, as the required documents to access these facilities have been in limbo for years, awaiting the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands to approve.

Tancoo warned that while this government is serious about developing the full economic potential of this country for the benefit of all its citizens, it still has a lot of work to do.