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Prime Minister at the Ground Turning Ceremony for the Goods Distribution Free Zone - September 11, 1998

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Friday, 11th September, 1998


- Mr. Yang Wensheng, Head of the visiting Chinese Delegation and Assistant Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Development, other distinguished member of the Chinese Delegation.

His Excellency, Mr. Gu Pine Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to St. Lucia.

- Honourable Ministers of the Government of St. Lucia.

- Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps

Other government officials

Distinguished guests

Ladies & Gentlemen

Welcome to Vieux-Fort, the tip of our promised land. I wish to convey a special welcome to the representatives of the People’s Republic of China. I feel honoured to be able to welcome you to this community today, and to be able to participate in the true spirit of friendship between our Governments, which we are able to celebrate today.



This formal ceremony marks the initiation of the construction phase of the Goods Distribution Free-Zone Project. This is indeed an important occasion for the economic advancement of Vieux-Fort and the rest of St. Lucia. This occasion also marks the fulfillment of a commitment made between the Government of Saint Lucia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, when we initiated diplomatic relations between our two countries exactly one year ago. This project and its commencement today, is fine tribute to the work of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in particular, our Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Hon George Odlum.


As Prime Minister of St. Lucia and the elected representative of the people of this area, I therefore enjoy a unique privilege by participating in today’s ceremony.



The project upon which we are about to embark entails the construction of approximately 93,000 sq. ft. of building space. It comprises eleven warehouses which will accommodate goods distribution operations and a central administrative building where all necessary support services will be located.


The development of a Goods Distribution Free-zone is compatible with the many economic advantages which the Vieux-Fort area offers. The project is ideally located adjacent to the Hewanorra Airport and is a mere stone’s throw away from the Vieux-Fort seaport. Both Air and Sea Ports offer the full range of services and amenities to accommodate the demands of internationally trading enterprises.


The Goods Distribution Free-Zone is an important addition to the economic infrastructure of the south and as such, it will further enhance the attractiveness of this region to local and foreign investors. It will help to realize the full economic potential of other existing public and private investments that are already located in this area of the country. For example, the Goods Distribution Free-Zone is intended to generate a significant volume of imports and re-export and thereby increase the volume of cargo through put at the Vieux-Fort Airport and Seaport.


All to often, the entry of foreign investors in the manufacturing sector is seen as being divorced from the rest of the economic activity within the country. This view is perpetuated by the concept of the ‘enclave’ industry or enterprise, which is located within the country but does not enjoy any close business interaction with other local businesses and the domestic trade sector.


The Goods Distribution Freezone offers a unique opportunity to develop greater linkages between these industrial enterprises and the local distribution sector. It will also provides an avenue through which St. Lucian business operators can develop and foster greater business and trading relationships with their regional and international counterparts.



This project will have the immediate impact of generating 100 jobs for St. Lucian nationals. These St. Lucian workers will have the experience of working alongside their Chinese counterparts in an exchange of experiences and techniques, which should prove tremendously valuable to both parties.




But the construction of this project is not only important because of its immediate and future impact on the economic welfare of Vieux-Fort and its environs. The Goods Distribution Free-zone will provide the framework through which St. Lucia can seek to achieve and enhance its trading status within the Caricom region and the rest of the world. According to modern economic development philosophy, economic growth and advancement of a country are achieved primarily through international trade and investments. The liberalization of the global trade regime is intended to facilitate this process.


The investment which the Government (through the NDC) and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, have made in establishing this facility, will create the foundation for the expansion of trade in goods and services between St. Lucia and the rest of the World.


St. Lucia has already developed a reputation for offering goods and services to regional consumers at attractive prices. Our island is ideally centered within the Caribbean Archipelago and has adequate transportation and communications linkages with the other Caribbean Countries. The Goods Distribution Free-Zone will further enhance the strategic advantages of St. Lucia to capitalize on the trade and business potential within the region.



This project and the occasion of the ceremony is also of symbolic significance as it marks the initiation of the first capital project agreed to between the Government of

St. Lucia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The Governments of St. Lucia and the People of China have embarked upon a journey in pursuit of friendship, cooperation and development for our people. Today, our people can be justly proud of the progress which we have made in this regard.


I have no doubt that all involved in this project, will seek to ensure that the pride and friendship, which is displayed at today’s Ground Breaking Ceremony, will be sustained throughout the project and will continue into other future endeavours. We hope to see other joint projects being undertaken in the near future especially the National Stadium which is also expected to be sited in the Vieux-Fort area.


With the continued dedication, goodwill and cooperation of the Government of St. Lucia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the people of St. Lucia can expect continued progress towards the development objectives agreed to between the two governments .



This Government will harness the development potential of Vieux-Fort and the Southern area. We will continue to seek the support of friendly Governments, financing institutions and private investors, in the pursuit of this objective. It is imperative to the balanced economic development of St. Lucia that this area of the country be fully exploited for the economic gains which it promises. Vieux-Fort has for a long time been referred as the ‘industrial capital’ of St. Lucia, "The New Frontier" and other such labels. Clearly, the Vieux-Fort area is undisputedly the primary area for industrial and commercial development in St. Lucia at this time.


Over the last few months the Government has designed a strategic public sector investment programme for this area, in a deliberate attempt to highlight the opportunities for development and to improve access for private sector intervention in that development process. In this regard, several public sector projects have already been initiated in this area. The Japanese Fisheries Project and the Cocodan Commercial Development Project being the most recent examples. The Goods Distribution Free-zone project will obviously compound the collective impacts of the public sector investment projects.



The involvement of the private sector is crucial to the success of this project. After the office buildings and warehouses of this project have been constructed, it is the private sector which will be required to take ownership of these facilities and to realize the economic benefits which are to be generated from their use. The private sector agents from Vieux-Fort in particular, must be bold and enterprising to take advantages of the opportunities which we are seeking to create.


Already, there are signs of interest by the private sector. Recently, Cabinet approved concessions to the Caricom Free Trade Cooperation, a joint venture company between local businessmen. The company will be located in Vieux Fort and proposes to employ twenty persons during the first year of operation and over three hundred by the fifth year of operation. Initially, the company will be granted a tax holiday for ten years with 100 per cent waiver of income tax with an additional five years tax holiday if the company employs three hundred persons within the first five years. The company will be engaged in the distribution and manufacture of merchandise, commercial and industrial household products to the Eastern Caribbean and Trinidad.


This investment is a powerful statement of confidence in the development freezone activity in this area.



The Government of St. Lucia is indeed grateful for the assistance and support of the Government of the People’s Republic of China in this particular project. The speed and precision with which this project has been conceptualized and undertaken, exemplifies the generous nature of the Chinese People, their exceptional technical skills and their willingness to share and exchange.



Ladies and Gentlemen, as I prepare to proceed to the actual turning of the soil, to signify the commencement of construction works on this project, I am acutely conscious that the opportunities are here, the time is now, we are truly on the threshold of a new development.


I thank you.



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