Yida project includes a blueprint for a manufacturing hub, but foes advise construction is decimating coastal vegetation
Plans to construct a sprawling” Chinese colony” complete with mills, homes and holiday resorts across a pristine marine reserve in Antigua have ignited a storm of controversy on the Caribbean island.
Known locally as the Yida project after its main investor, Yida Zhang, the scheme includes a blueprint for a manufacturing hub which promises several hundred jobs and increased exports.
But opponents, including local activists and environmentalists, advise that construction is already decimating valuable coastal vegetation, threatening the habitat of critically endangered animals and putting the island at greater hazard of hurricane damage.
Chinese-funded development and infrastructure projects- often delivered via low-interest loans- are not new in the Caribbean.
What situateds the Yida project apart- in addition to its sheer sizing, which spans more than 2,000 acres- is that Chinese investors have been given a license to establish their own special economic zone for the new community’s residents and business who will benefit from tax waivers.
Under an agreement signed in 2015, developers are entitled to set up a seafood harvesting company within the zone and net 90% of the profits. The zone is also free of all taxes levied elsewhere in the country, including income tax, sales tax and import and export duties. Anyone investing more than $ 400,000 will be eligible for Antiguan citizenship.
That has caused dismay among some locals, who liken the zone to a “colony”.
” It will operate like a country within a state ,” said George Wehner, who grew up close to the area.” It will totally alter our way of life. Fisherfolk have relied on these waters for generations; it’s one of our most important breeding grounds for marine life and destroying it threatens our food security .”
Last June, Antigua and Barbuda became the first country in the eastern Caribbean to sign up for China’s Belt and Road initiative, a global trade project consisting of a network of ports, railways, tunnels and other infrastructure.
Newly constructed buildings are already clearly visible on the razed scenery of Antigua’s north-east coast. From the water, work seems well under way on the gargantuan development, the heavy machinery juxtaposed against the surround untouched cays.
The master plan includes up to seven resorts, a shipping port, the country’s first four-lane highway, offshore” wealth management” centres, hospital and university facilities, a school, bank and a luxury golf community on adjacent uninhabited Guiana Island. The 400 -acre industrial segment includes steel and ceramic tile factories.
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