By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest said the government is committed to facilitating the ease of doing business in Grand Bahama.
He spoke after the owners of an air-cargo business, which has operated in Freeport for some 20 years, said they are closing up shop over air freight fees.
Tribune Business reported on Monday that GB Express has issued a notice to its customers telling them that the implementation of new Customs laws related to air freight has made it too costly and difficult for the company to continue its air courier service between the island and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The company has been providing daily air-courier services for 22 years here, and employs around eight to 10 persons in Freeport.
In a notice to customers, the company said that it would close and cease all operations on July 31.
The Tribune attempted to contact Bob Clutter, a pilot and co-owner of GB Express, at the company’s Florida office, however, he could not be reached for comments up to press time on Monday.
In response to the letter in circulation regarding the closure of GB Express, Mr Turnquest said that the company has served the people and business community in Grand Bahama for many years, and its departure would certainly be missed.
“We wish Mr and Mrs Clutter and their partners well in their retirement and thank them for their service to our island,” he said yesterday.
Mr Turnquest, the minister of finance, explained that with regards to the Customs Department, the government remains committed to the ease of doing business in Grand Bahama and throughout the Bahamas.
“We are working with the business community, the courier industry and the wider community to facilitate the ease of cross-broader trade with a focus on compliance and professionalism,” he said.
He noted that the move to the Department of Customs’ ‘single window’ or the Click2Clear platform, once fully launched later this summer, will facilitate ease of customs procedures and interaction with the general public and business community, making cross broader trade more cost effective and efficient.
According to the notice posted by GB Express, the cost to meet the demands of Bahamas customs duty has been impacting the air cargo business.
“The times have changed, especially the customs laws, and their application at air freight has made it impractical to operate an air courier service. Since we are not set up to operate through the harbour, I am left with two options – shut down the air service and start sea service or close down GB Express Ltd,” the document signed by Mr Clutter, and other senior executives noted.
“The cost of meeting the demands of customs has priced the product beyond the reach of the Bahamian citizen and GB cannot continue absorbing this cost. With customs’ direction in the future it is only going to be more difficult to operate in Freeport, therefore, I feel the best business decision I can make is to close the doors.”
The notice also said: “I realise our expected daily flights have not been operating on a daily basis. This is due to the fact that our filler (individual) courier shipments have not been sufficient to make the daily flights possible.
“I know that some of you have known this day was coming but that does not make it any easier, nor does it relieve the pain, knowing that I now have to tell our valuable customers that the time has come for you to find another courier to serve your needs.
“I know everyone has given their all – especially Pat – to keep GB alive during these difficult times, but even with all of their efforts GB is still losing gross amounts of money at the airport on the Courier side.
“So, with all this being said: GB (Express) will be closing July 31, 2019,” the statement read.
In August 2009, GB Express faced a similar ordeal when changes in customs procedures had required customers to hire a broker to clear their parcels, costing them up to an additional $100, and requiring them to fill out the C-13 (home consumption entry) form.
The company had said that the requirement would have negatively affected GB Express, which would have to lay off employees. After meeting with GB Air Courier Association, acting Comptroller of Customs Glenn Gomez decided to withdraw that procedure.