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Opposition Senator Jearlean John

Crime is a big issue and Trinidad and Tobago is indeed under siege, according to UNC Senator Jearlean John. She made the point in the Senate on Tuesday during debate on a bill to upgrade, expand and enhance legislation governing Free Zones.

John quoted the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian’s headline “Under Siege” in citing negatives in the country against investment. She said if an investor picked up a newspaper they would see that T&T is “under siege” and would be discouraged to come here.

John questioned what the country would do differently to encourage businesses to T&T free zones since other free zone locations like Dubai are very aggressive and at this time people didn’t seem to know Trinidad and Tobago exists.

Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, who piloted the bill, said new legislation was needed since T&T’s free zones didn’t play enough of a significant role in growing and diversifying the economy.

This was due to an ineffective policy framework, the legal framework doesn’t support a modern regime, a weak institutional regime and poor performance by existing zones.

She said T&T can’t attract new dynamic investment under the current regime.

“There are only 15 entities after 32 years under the Free Zones regime,” the Minister said noting experts in Special Economic Zones observed the current format was harmful.

The 90 clause bill includes provisions for licensing regimes where applicants will have to do an economic substance test and anti-money laundering/anti-terrorism financing questionnaire. Gopee-Scoon said the bill will expand T&T’s revenue base, increase and diversify exports in SEC zones, integrate zones with national objectives and increase compliance of zones with local and international laws

Licenses will be for 50 years unless revoked before.

Gopee-Scoon said this is needed for significant investment and to give greater predictability.