Mexico shuts down huge Chinese megamart scheme over environmental fears

The Mexican authorities earlier this week halted work on a huge trade centre development near the city of Cancún over concerns about its environmental impact. 

The $180m Dragon Mart development was to have provided 22 commercial centres containing about 3,000 retail units and some 722 homes for Chinese vendors and their families. It was to have been a showcase for Chinese manufactured goods. When work began in 2010, it was reported that the centre would draw 1 million visitors a year and turn over as much as $700m.  

But Guillermo Haro Bélchez, attorney for Mexico’s Federal Environmental Protection Agency, said in a press conference on 26 January that the project was being halted on the grounds of  deforestation.  

He added that the scheme’s promoters had not paid a series of fines imposed by Mexican courts for the destruction of vegetation, and that an injunction had been issued ordering the immediate suspension of the project. 

According to Bélchez, Dragon Mart Cancún had never been given an environmental evaluation of land use permit. He said the scheme violated the ecological balance and environmental protection and forestry-related regulations. 

Cancún, located on the Yucatán Peninsula (pictured), is one of Mexico’s premier tourist destinations and an area of outstanding natural beauty.  

The action comes after five months of legal action. On 12 August, the agency imposed a fine of $7.2m and ordered the developer, Dragon Mart Cancún, to submit a program of ecological restoration. The following month it imposed three fines totalling $15.5m, and ordered the scheme to apply for a change the use permit. Finally, on 21 January a district court issued an injunction halting work. 

The statement added that in October last year, the agency had filed a criminal complaint with the Specialised Crimes Against the Environment Unit of the Mexican government, for crimes against biodiversity caused by destruction of natural vegetation, land use change, damage and the desiccation of wetlands. It also threatened a bird sanctuary.  

Juan Carlos López Rodríguez, the project manager for Dragon Mart Cancun, was reported in the Mexican press yesterday as saying that the closure was "not definitive", and the Dragon Mart was analysing the legal scope of the judgment. He added that the authorities had not yet resolved two appeals that Dragon Mart had lodged against the fines. 

"Until the appeals are resolved, the project will remain suspended," he said. "In fact, there has been no work since May. We are waiting for legal matters to be worked out, and that will take at least another 10 months. The matter is still not resolved."

Photograph: Pink flamingos in a Yucután nature reserve (Pedro Sánchez/Wikimedia Commons)

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