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Authority to adopt more welcoming stance for SEZ investors

Published:Tuesday | August 13, 2019 | 12:20 AM
Metry Seaga
Metry Seaga

The Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority (JSEZA) has backtracked from an earlier stance and is now exploring ways to simplify the application process for members of the investing community seeking to operate under the new SEZ Act.

This follows a presentation and subsequent stakeholders meeting held recently with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and members of the Cabinet, where the JSEZA was instructed to show a friendlier face to the investors.

“Yes, we met with the prime minister and he made it clear that the laws of the land must be adhered to by both local and foreign investors,” said JSEZA Chairman Metry Seaga in an interview with The Gleaner yesterday. “…but he also said that he valued very greatly the input of the BPO (business process outsourcing) sector and that we should work together to find solutions instead of having road blocks in the way.”

The new regime was passed in January 2016, and repeals the Jamaica Export Free Zone Act, but has been a vexed issue for the outsourcing sector in particular, which says the changes have been having a negative impact on growth.

The BPO sector enjoys the highest number and currently accounts for nearly 40,000 jobs across the island, but Gloria Henry, president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) could not be reached for comment.

According to Seaga, the new regulation was not designed for any one industry, but for large scale investments.

“We having to fit the BPO sector in this regulation has proven difficult for them and us, “Seaga continued. “The team has been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole because the regulation and the act calls for certain things.

“What the prime minister made clear is that he wants us to be friendly regulators …. maybe there needs to be a change of mindset at the (SEZ) authority, but we are working towards an amicable solution, to make sure that all investors are accommodated.”

Seaga added: “However we will remain vigilant against any firm who might seek to flout the law.

“This is not about softening our position …. Let’s just say it was a misunderstanding.”

Several BPO operations are now seeking to complete expansions before the grandfathering period, when the SEZ Act takes full effect in December 2019.