By NEIL HARTNELL
#Tribune Business Editor
#THE Grand Bahama Port Authority's (GBPA) newly-confirmed chairman yesterday pledged to address Freeport's "critically important" Business Licence and real property tax exemptions, due to expire in 2015, with the Governmsent once the election was over.
#Speaking to Tribune Business from Abaco, Ian Fair said he felt the GBPA "could advance a bit more" potential investments "in the pipeline", particularly the proposed AsiaMart buyers emporium/distribution centre, as the organisation and Freeport needed to score "a couple of quick hits" to reinvigorate business and investor confidence.
#Eager to portray the GBPA and its shareholding families, the Haywards and St Georges, as united as one, and open for business, Mr Fair said he planned to visit both Asia ( including Hong Kong and China) and Australia later this month to promote investment opportunities in Freeport.
#Acknowledging the challenge before him, in a city and island's economy that has effectively gone backwards over the past eight years, due to a combination of the Royal Oasis closure, the four year-long infighting at the GBPA between its two shareholder families and the global recession, Mr Fair said attracting much-needed new investment and businesses might provide the momentum spark to get the ball rolling.
#Focusing on AsiaMart, the proposed Chinese-led distribution centre, a project that has involved visits by GBPA officials to the Yiwu International Trade City, one of the largest wholesale developments in the world, Mr Fair said attracting this to Freeport would make the city a 'hub' for the entire Americas when it came to Asian manufacturers.
#"That's one we're taking a look at," he said. "The Asia Mart, if we can make it happen, is a real opportunity. It would be the first of its type in the Americas. It would mean that Asian manufacturers would show their wares to partners in Freeport, and that would create opportunities for people from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean to visit Freeport.
#"That we see as being a high priority item. I think we can advance it more. Let me do my trip to Asia and Australia, and I'll talk to you again.... There's a few people I want to talk to about opportunities in Freeport."
#The influx of buyers/potential partners for Asian manufacturers in this hemisphere, and the add-on distribution centre, would generate spin-off business for Grand Bahama hotels and the Freeport Container Port, plus a whole variety of sectors.
#The idea, though, has been around for eight years, having first been proposed under the former PLP government when the China-based conglomerate, CITIC, took a look at Freeport. Any project, though, appeared to founder over the large number of Chinese work permits that would be required.
#It is also unclear whether AsiaMart is a GBPA-led project or one being driven by the private sector. Tribune Business is aware of a Bahamian-led investor group that has been talking to the Chinese on such a project.
#Looking ahead, Mr Fair said of his chairmanship role: "It's a big challenge, but a hell of an opportunity, and if all stakeholders come together we can make it happen....
#"It's a question of declaring to people that we're open for business, and that there's no longer any feuding or in-fighting going on. Freeport has a wonderful history, it's got a great story and presents a wonderful opportunity for the Bahamas. We've got to make it happen."
#Mr Fair indicated it was critical to "get a couple of quick hits" when it came to attracting investment projects to Freeport and bringing them to fruition. The idea being that it would convince existing businesses and potential new ones that a new day had truly dawned.
#"There are a couple of things in the pipeline we can work harder on to make happen," he added. "A couple of early investments would help."
#Moving to put the four year-long GBPA shareholder dispute, which ended in 2011, behind the Port, Mr Fair said the Board and two families were "united" and "all pulling in the same direction", providing him with complete support.
#When it came to the expiration of Freeport's real property tax and Business Licence exemptions in 2015, an issue that has contributed to investor and GBPA licensee uncertainty, Mr Fair said: "Once the election is over we'll talk to the Government about it.
#"It's critically important to all stakeholders - current licencees, business people. We know that, and will act accordingly."