SEZ regulations to go to Parliament this month, says Holness
Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the long-awaited regulatory and legislative framework to govern the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) will be placed before Parliament for passage into law by the end of this month.
The prime minister made the announcement while giving the keynote address at Thursday night's opening ceremony for the 2017 Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) Expo at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James. The SEZ has been a contentious issue for players in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector for quite some time.
"We are now putting in place the regulations for the special economic zones, which has been long in coming," said Holness. "The regulation and the legislation will be business-friendly, but we will have to meet all the good governance requirements to ensure that our business is in line with our obligations for anti-corruption," he added.
However, the prime minister noted that in framing the new regulations, care must be taken to ensure that the nation's financial sector is not exploited and that there is no room for terrorism or other nefarious activities.
"We have to strike the right balance," said Holness. "(So) I am pleased to announce that in another two weeks, the regulation will be brought to Parliament that will finally bring to life the special economic zones."
Holness' announcement is welcome news for the local investing community, which was clearly not impressed with the protracted delay in putting the requisite regulations in place since the SEZ Act was passed in January 2016, repealing the Jamaica Export Free Zone Act.
Back in 2016, Dr Guna Muppuri, president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) said that if the Government was to realize the 300,000 jobs projected for the sector, the SEZ Act had to get priority attention.
"We know things cannot happen overnight, but if we are to get anywhere near the 300,000 jobs projected for the BPO sector, this must be treated as a matter of priority," Muppuri said at the time.
The BPO sector, which primarily operates out of western Jamaica, enjoys the highest employment growth rate of any sector in the last decade and presently accounts for more than 22,000 jobs across the island.
In its 2015 policy for the establishment of SEZs, the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce said implementation of the global logistics hub initiative has made the upgrading of the free zone regime to a modern SEZ regime of utmost importance.
According to the document, through the SEZs, the Government would be demonstrating its commitment to building a competitive business environment and supporting growth-inducing economic activities, which would stimulate sustainable economic growth and development.