MARIGOT–Activation of businesses down 56 per cent, first registration of businesses down 42 per cent, and a fifteen per cent increase in closures of businesses over a seven-month period – 84 in 2019 compared to 97 in 2020 – were some of the statistics highlighting the plight of the Dutch-side business community mentioned by St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI) President Benjamin Ortega during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
Discussion on the pre-announced joint letter sent by the respective Chamber of Commerce presidents to both island governments was elaborated on during the conference and exposed the scale of concern the chambers feel over what was described as a “one-sided” and hastily implemented border closure without exploring other options, consequences of which are being acutely felt.
The letter urges the government decision-makers to “reconvene and reconsider” and find common ground to reopen the border to rescue what little is left of the economy, and to find an alternative, more effective, joint approach to managing the health crisis. The letter is also being forwarded to the French ministries.
Some proposals mentioned in the letter are joint campaigns, conducting a massive testing of employees, proposing the partial activity scheme (chômage partiel) on both sides, and harmonising decisions.
Ortega insisted there was nothing political about the letter, responding to criticism. “The letter is simply to ensure the businesses community is heard,” he said.
The downward spiral experienced by businesses on both sides, worsened significantly by the border closure on July 31, warranted the action taken by the two Chambers to sound the alarm on behalf of the business communities.
Chambre Consulaire Inter-professionelle de Saint-Martin (CCISM) President Angèle Dormoy went so far as to say, “100 per cent of businesses have been impacted by the border closure, in one way or another,” due to the nature of living on one side of the island and doing business on the other.
She said an “enormous” number of businesses, not including the annual vacation period of August and September for closures, had either closed, modified their status or gone into dormancy.
Ortega said businesses on the Dutch side are simply uncertain whether to stay open and are uncertain about the future.
“Why would you continue to operate in this manner of division when you are hurting so much?” he questioned.
Division was a key word that struck a nerve with Dormoy. “As a born St. Martiner I have never in my life seen a division of the territory. We have survived hurricanes and all sorts of disasters, but have never been divided,” she said.
She noted that the Préfecture had stated in July in a reply to a letter from the Chamber that health was more important than the economy.
Ortega and Dormoy both agree that the border closure has not helped bring the number of COVID-19 cases down. To the contrary, there are many more cases now than there were in March when the territory was in lockdown.
“Joint collaboration is the only way to fight this crisis,” said Ortega, who defended the decision to open up the airport to US flights with safety protocols in place. “Infections brought in by tourists is very small and did not contribute to amount of cases. It is the local community transmission that is more concerning.”
Dormoy said the only way to balance risk and reward is to manage the health crisis jointly. “The virus is here to stay; we have to accept that. The second wave was expected, and there will be more. Knowing that, we have to sit down together to find a solution to live with the virus, to protect ourselves and the economy. We will not get rid of the virus by being divided.”
The respective Chambers have launched an awareness campaign for businesses, shops, restaurants, etc., to protect themselves and their customers from COVID-19. Posters are in French and English detailing the sanitising measures. They can be collected at the CCISM.
Bron: Daily Herald