Govt. to review supermarket freeze in bid to lower prices

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POND ISLAND–Government will soon decide on whether to lift the longstanding moratorium on establishing of supermarkets in a bid to promote competition and halt skyrocketing food and goods prices.

Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Cornelius de Weever said in his state of the economy speech on Friday that he had been advised to remove the moratorium. “Given the cries in the community that prices are increasing, it is envisioned that the lifting of this moratorium will promote competition, thereby allowing market forces to lower prices,” he said.

The thaw is also viewed as an avenue to give entrepreneurs an opportunity to enter the market.

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Government plans to assist businesses via the establishment of a “Guarantee Fund” that will allow banks to give soft loans to businesses to enable quick return to operations and service. The Dutch Recovery Fund, to be administrated by the World Bank, will be pivotal in this plan.

Government intends to launch the St. Maarten Business Development Centre (SBDC) and ensure collaboration with all stakeholders is in place to guarantee its success for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), said De Weever.

The centre will provide continuous training to businesses, ensure readiness to obtain financial assistance through a guaranteed fund programme, and attract investors, among other things.

De Weever said: “We have come a very long way in a short time and, yes, we have some way to go. In the interim, it is cardinally and critically important that we safeguard, protect and ensure that the tourism industry … we still have a long way to go towards full economic recovery.”

With the National Reconstruction Plan as the guide, and with “the undoubted financial support of our kingdom partners, we are on course to build St. Maarten back stronger and better,” De Weever said.

“We must take pride in and protect our surroundings, individually and collectively. … This way the visitors’ experience will be the catalyst to promote and market the destination, via one of the most effective ways: the ‘Word of Mouth’ marketing to inform, educate and convince other that St. Maarten is open, recovering and ready to welcome their return.”

Cruise

Cruise passenger arrival projections for this year are estimated at 1.2 million. Despite this projection not reflecting an increase compared to 2017, De Weever said it should still be viewed as an opportunity, as the sector stands to gain approximately US $179.7 million based on the current average daily expenditure per cruise passenger of $149.79 as determined by the Statistical Department.

Cruise passenger arrivals pre-Hurricane Irma were projected at 1.8 million visitors. However, only 1.2 million cruise visitors were realised for 2017, a decrease of 25.8 per cent when compared to 2016.

Port St. Maarten has given Government the assurance that Pier I will be restored in time to welcome five cruise ships, the first such occurrence post-Hurricane Irma, on March 8. Multiple ship calls of this nature are expected to increase based on plan to offer more onshore activities, he said.

Stayover

Stayover visitors for 2017 are estimated at 409,522, a decrease of 22.5 per cent or 118,631 visitors compared to 2016.

Preliminary projections for 2018 show a decrease of 20 per cent due to closure of major hotels and other properties for reconstruction. The projected stayover arrivals are just over 318,000 and will bring some $37.8 million into the economy based on the most recent average daily expenditure of $112.43 per visitor.

The current room inventory, small and large properties such as villas and condos are “reporting good occupancy figures and more properties are reopening this quarter.”

Airlines are returning to the destination. There is also increased connectivity with the Caribbean, the country’s second largest source market. This market “should be more appreciated and valued. In my opinion, the connection to various sister Caribbean Islands is one of the most important ways to promote intra-Caribbean trade, and Caribbean integration and unity,” said De Weever.

The Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten has indicated that the solvency and liquidity of the banks are in good standing and that they are actively monitoring the claims-handling by the insurance companies. Dialogue with various insurance companies has indicated that the vast majority of the claims have been settled and the larger claims will be settled within the near future.

Cargo

The cargo sector projections indicate double-digit growth for 2018 due to the expected increase in the construction sector, locally and regionally. The foreseen increase in activities in this sector is expected to open up opportunities for individuals offering their services in cargo movements and trucking services, De Weever said.

The construction sector, as can be expected, “is enjoying a boom.”

Marine

The direct and indirect activities of the marine sector constitute 15 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, cementing its importance to the economy. The sector sustained an immense blow from Irma, but since then there has been “significant progress towards its recovery.”

Government intends “to prioritise and facilitate this industry in order to foster its further development and contributing potential towards our economy,” De Weever said of the marine sector.

Reports from stakeholders in the sector indicate that luxury yachts prefer to come to St. Maarten due to the professional, friendly and provisioning service they receive here. While some other destinations have offered cheaper rates for berthing and fuelling to attract them, they still cannot compete with the level of service in St. Maarten, he said.

“This is borne out by the decent registered participation for this year’s Heineken Regatta. Hence it is inevitable that as a country we all ought to be cognizant of our qualities and uphold our standard for betterment.”

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/74015-govt-to-review-supermarket-freeze-in-bid-to-lower-prices

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