The Implications of an illegal cattle trade


One day after the general elections, on Thursday November 12, Jose Abelardo Mai told Jules Vasquez that, “As we were driving up to Belmopan a while ago, I got some texts asking us if they can export cattle and my response to them was yes, load the trucks and get the cattle out.” Mai was in fact not even sworn in as an area representative and much less as the Minister of Agriculture when he made an executive decision. On the following day, cattle farmers resumed the informal exportation via the Bullet Tree Area. There is no telling how many animals have been exported or much less how much tax revenue the Government of Belize has lost as a result of the maneuver. That however is the least of the concerns for the country of Belize.
Former Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte explained that any responsible government cannot simply take the position of sending cattle out of the country without it being formalized. He explained that the move has international implications. He said that the Mexicans have told the Government of Belize in the past that 80% of the cattle that reaches Guatemala goes into Mexico. The concern is that under the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), Mexicans should not engage or tolerate any illegal trade with either Belize or Guatemala. The reinvigorated informal cattle trade between Belize and Guatemala then, violates Mexico’s obligations under the USMCA.
A nonchalant Mai’s response to this was, “if there are restrictions on the Guatemalan part, that is a Guatemalan problem, it is not the Belizean problem.” Peyrefitte has a different view however. He states that, “if we continue to allow the illegal trade, it will hurt Mexico and if it hurts Mexico it will hurt Mexico’s relation with Belize.”
Outside of international relations being affected, there is the issue of taxation. With the way the trade is now happening, there is no accountability and no telling how many heads of cattle are being exported and the government receives no revenue by way of taxes. The informal cattle trade is estimated to yield over 70 million dollars in revenue of which the Government receives absolutely nothing.
The Covid-19 pandemic is another dimension which also needs to be taken into account. Currently, the land borders are closed and for the PUP government and Mai to not be sanctioning the free flow of cattle through unestablished points along the border it is going contrary to the Statutory Instrument which closed the borders in the first place. This allows for free movement of persons in trading points facilitating the spread of Covid-19. Those who interact with the Guatemalans then return into the country and to their communities increasing the risk of infections.
But there is more. Without accountability, there is no telling exactly how many heads of cattle are sent out and the farmers can engage in money laundering. They can claim any number by way of sales of cattle and with that any amount of revenue gained by this activity.