CNMI: Free Trade Zone In Northern Islands Is ‘Accomplishable,’

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Part of proposed resettlement plan

By Junhan B. Todiño

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 22, 2015) – The plan to resettle the Northern Islands and establish a free trade zone there is "accomplishable with adequate financing," Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang said as he expressed support for Senate Bill 19-29.

The measure is authored by Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar and will mandate cooperation and collaboration between the mayor of the Northern Islands, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Public Lands, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality and the Commonwealth Ports Authority in identifying free trade zone areas in the Northern Islands.

Apatang said "proper planning must be at the very front of the process."

"Free trade zones are meant to promote, encourage, and further existing or new infrastructure development and economic activities in areas that do not immediately impact surrounding land uses, and offer tax abatement and reduction of lease rentals as incentives to enterprises for developing in such areas," he added.

He said the development of the Northern Islands should include "everything that we have learned from the development" of Saipan, Tinian and Rota.

"We should look in hindsight and make sure that the actions of the past that became disadvantageous to both the government and private land owners years later are not repeated in the planning of the Northern Islands."

A 2000 law created free trade zones in the CNMI.

Apatang said there should be a very comprehensive land-use study to eliminate conflicting land use activity and reserve public lands for development and expansion of public infrastructure.

He said a comprehensive land-use study will be a most valuable guide and will serve as a working tool for planning development in the Northern Islands.

This would save the government and any interested, potential developer the trouble of conducting a piecemeal study and planning on islands with very limited developable land area, he added.

With the comprehensive land-use study, he said the Northern Islands will be easily marketable, especially to developers and investors who must work with schedules and financial resources that produce results at the least cost possible.

Apatang said from a bystander standpoint who believes that the Northern Islands are the last remaining beautiful and untamed possession of the local people, "we wonder why offer free trade zones in the islands."

"We also wonder what the economic benefits of making free trade zones available in the Northern Islands would be when incentives are available to free-trade-zone licensees that reduce their responsibilities like taxes and land-use payments, especially when we consider that there will be fewer or maybe no other commercial operations in the Northern Islands that will be non-free-trade-zone licensees."

The remote and sparsely populated Northern Islands include Pagan, an active volcano.

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