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JSEZA going digital to reduce wait times for approvals

Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority, JSEZA, is going digital, a shift it expects will cut back on the turnaround time for the issue of licences.

JSEZA, the state agency responsible for promoting investments via special economic zones, began operating seven years ago and currently oversees 143 SEZs spanning 174 locations. The numbers include 34 outsourcing firms.

It should take four months for a SEZ licence to be approved, but the companies seeking the designation, which comes with certain tax benefits, have frequently complained that the process is too lengthy.

“That’s something that we are working on as we speak,” said Acting CEO of JSEZA Kelli-Dawn Hamilton in an interview with the Financial Gleaner.

“The act allows a maximum 120 days for applications to be approved, but of course our intention is never to go up to the maximum allowable time, but to facilitate our clients as quickly as possible,” she added.

“A lot of our processes are manual, but we recognise that we must move in tandem with the thrust of the new way of doing business, and so we must get on board with digitalisation,” she said.

JSEZA has already begun to digitise some of its internal process, and has also sought external help from the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce under which it falls, as well as Jampro to speed up the programme.

The trio have been sending some of JSEZA’s traffic to the newly launched Jamaica Business Gateway which already has some 14 applications in high-priority areas such as film registration, cannabis licensing, divestment of lands, productive input relief and the registration of pharmaceutical products, among others, to create greater efficiency between private organisations and the government.

Over the next few months, more applications processes will be uploaded to the website.

“This is where companies and individuals will be able to access all the industry-related materials. With all that we are doing we expect a drastic reduction in the length of time it takes applications to approved, particularly for developers’ licence, which has been the most challenging,” Hamilton said.

She estimates that by January 2024, all of JSEZA’s processes will be digitalised.

A budget for the digitalisation programme was not disclosed.

In addition to the zones managed and developed by the JSEZA and various government agencies, the SEZ Act affords foreign and local investors numerous fiscal incentives once they have obtained approval for an operating certificate or authorisation to carry out business activities either as an occupant operating in a SEZ or as a developer of a SEZ.

Where applicable, the SEZ benefits result in an income tax rate of 12.5 per cent, which is half the current corporate tax rate payable by Jamaican companies, and can be further reduced to 7.5 per cent with the application of employment tax credits.

In addition, the SEZ benefits result in no withholding tax on the repatriated profits from Jamaica, no customs duty or general consumption tax on the import of equipment, GCT relief on certain goods and services entering the SEZs, and refund of customs duties upon the exportation of goods from Jamaica.

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