Belize’s National Trade Policy now being formulated Print E-mail
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Thursday, 13 July 2017 00:00

As a sub group of the Ministry of Economic Development, Petroleum, Investment, Trade & Commerce, The Directorate General for Foreign Trade (DGFT) is now consulting with stakeholders on the National Trade Policy Framework, which was approved by Cabinet in July 2016 and when completed will guide Belize’s trade agenda for the next decade.

The DGFT has been described as the National Authority that is charged with leading trade and linking that trade to the domestic supply chain, so that Belize can compete in the Global Market. As such that vision has become ever more relevant with the dynamics of export figures. (The mission of the DGFT in this is to foster sustainable and inclusive economic development through a responsive trade policy that stimulates trade, enables investment and facilitates Belize’s integration into the multilateral trading system.)

Latest figures obtained from the Statistical Institute of Belize indicates that the total domestic exports for the period January to May 2017 amounted to 237.6 million dollars; this is an increase of 21.8% or 42.6 million when compared to January to May of 2016. This upward 21.8% growth in domestic earning was the result of positive performances for most of Belize's major exports. As a main crop earner,  sugar continues to be Belize's top export earner at 94.9 million dollars, up 58% or 34.8 million.

Tiffany Vasquez from the SIB has provided to the media a deeper analysis on these export figures: "Domestic exports to the US fell by 10.8 million dollars over the period to 30 million largely due to the drop in orange concentrate sales. On the other hand exports to the EU [European Union] rose by 12.2 million to 35 million, going to greater exports of sugar, orange concentrate, banana and orange oil to that region in the period January to May 2017. Further earnings from Belize's exports to CARICOM grew 4.3 million to 33 million due mostly to increased revenue from crude petroleum and boosted black eyed peas sales."

These figures are obviously good news for the DGFT as it seeks to consolidate its own base by continuing to consult with the private sector towards a more modern and formal approach to trade.  Consultations on this very important national exercise are expected to conclude by the end of July.

“This is a consultative meeting to inform the development of Belize’s first National Trade Policy, this policy will be completed by June 2018, we expect that the draft document will be presented to the cabinet for their endorsement and for approval,” explains Andy Sutherland, Acting Director Foreign Trade in Belize, after having  recently completed a session with private sector partners.

“So the task at hand is a very complicated task and we intend to reach out to the entire gamut of stakeholders, public, private, civil society and even the general public at the end of the process to be able to have a policy that is reflective of the needs of the Belizean economy, and we are going to consult.”

The issue of trade policy cuts across the entire Belizean economy and it also affects agricultural, industrial, investment and export policies. As explained by Andy Sutherland in that recent consultation with the private sector, the National Trade Policy Framework will attempt to achieve higher living standards for the people of Belize, by having guiding principles and promoting competitiveness for producers and exporters. He said that we live in a hemisphere that produces the same thing that we do and their production is cheaper, “…so we need to safeguard the competitiveness.”

Currently Belize has no trade remedy measures for products coming from Central America through surges says Sutherland.

According to a DGFT Report the reality for Belize in the international market becomes evident when countries such as China, India and Brazil continue occupying the rank of developing countries in the multilateral trade system, which ensures them Special and Differential Treatment. Such a landscape is disturbing and threatening the asymmetric situation of the smaller and weaker countries, such as Belize, and that really requires such safety net. The DGFT report also points out that the agendas of the multilateral foreign trade system, including those of the international organizations “…are driven by the interests and stakes of the developed countries and major economies.”

There are a number of actions that small states can do—sometimes with international help-- to counteract these trends and those have included the hiring of some of the top minds in economics and placing them on the third floor of the Garden City Building at 3894 Mountain View Boulevard in Belmopan. Terrence Simfukwee, the National Trade Advisor, whose work is sponsored by the Commonwealth Secretariat says that there has been a global shift in trade and Belize can now tap on that potential. Such a shift has involved travel and tourism driving the service sector with financial services coming second at the world stage. He says that in the development of a Trade Policy those types of services should be incorporated and not only goods. Simfukwee believes that a Trade Policy provides predictability in the services sector.

Another Trade Economist, Ms. Denise Swan, who assists in the World Trade Organization Multilateral Trade Unit within the DGFT has pointed out the imbalances in trade with our two closest neighbors in the Americas. Belize’s exports to Guatemala from 2011 to 2015 only figured out at $30,085,443. But during that same time span our imports from Guatemala was $595,743,614. Such imbalances shows up with Mexico, where exports to that country from 2011 to 2015 was $110,837,100 while imports from that Northern neighbor during that same interval was $943,359,777.

To reverse these trade figures, a Trade Policy would seek to build capacity, assist producers to produce goods with standards, focus on coordinating strategies and identify existing market access such as in the Caribbean Community, Central American and the European Union.

Another Belizean economist Tricia Gideon asks on how can we promote cultural services to have a surplus in recreation services.

“Are we capitalizing in the Information and Communication Technologies?” says Tricia Gideon, who also points out that as an English speaking Country, Belize can capitalize in providing education and health services to the rest of the World.

“A lot of it have to do with creativity,” says Gideon.

To take on the opportunities of the current DGFT consultations, Senior Trade Economist Richard Reid has appealed to the private sector to come up with a public-private partnership. He says that Belize is “weak” in transportation services. In order for Belize to penetrate the export market, it will have to adapt technologically, innovate and have adequate infrastructure for routes on land, sea and air.

“There is room for improvement in runways and access to these places, we need to join hands in partnership to develop transportation and infrastructure, it’s the private sector that will provide the services, government will handle the laws and rules, but the actual spending will have to depend on the private sector,” said Richard Reid.

The dialogue between the Directorate General for Foreign Trade and the private sector partners around the Country is ongoing as Trade Policy can improve capacity to access domestic as well as international markets. While this is happening the DGFT is also analyzing the supply and demand of goods and services and has shown a willingness to share the valuable data with stakeholders.

Belize continues to hold linkages with the World Trade Organization WTO, the Caribbean Community CARICOM, The CARICOM Single Market and Economy CSME, the European Union and The Central America Integration System SICA. As such a National Trade Policy Framework for Belize may-- in the long term—serve as a cohesive force to these relationships.