Most of the conversation in Belize around the time of the September Celebrations has been centered on the ICJ issue. Belizeans citing the pros and obvious cons of voting one way or the other. I am as convinced as ever that the ICJ referendum while certainly particularly important takes the attention away from other equally important issues. The celebratory mood wrapped up Belizean patriots and other issues were left by the way side. Perhaps those issues now necessitate a closer look.
Let us take the Ministry of Foreign Affairs charged with the implementing of Belize’s foreign policy, consolidation of our sovereignty, preservation of territorial integrity and general protection of our national interests. It is within this context that the Ministry seeks bilateral agreements, in trade for instance, with other countries to further Belize’s interests. The first agreement that Belize signed back in 2006 was a bilateral trade agreement with Guatemala, talks had been ongoing since 2004 the initiative of a PUP Government. The agreement known as the Belize-Guatemala Partial Scope Agreement (PSA) came into effect on April 4th, 2010. This agreement has been in effect a full eight years. Under the conditions of the PSA as many as one hundred and fifty different Belizean products now enjoy preferential tariff margins. In most instances these Belizean exports into Guatemala enjoy duty free access to the Guatemalan market. Products that Guatemala currently imports from the USA and Chile such as tilapia, yellow maize, rice, black beans and citrus fruits and concentrates are products that we can easily provide. There is currently no emphasis placed into ramping up exports for preferential markets that we now have access to.
While we patiently wait for Government 2.0 to load …why is there such a huge trade deficit with Guatemala? The SIB recently reported that Belize imported $74M from Guatemala in the last fiscal year. It also reported that we managed to export a paltry $3.8M leaving us with a huge trade deficit. We also have a huge trade deficit with our neighbor Mexico. We export a measly $10M while importing close to 60M. These figures do not take into account the substantial amounts that Belizeans spend at border towns in the North, West and South. Party Leader Hon John Briceño has declared that we must reduce trade deficit by at least fifty percent over a ten year period. He understands that it is critical for our economy and to become more self-sustainable in our food production as well as increase our output to become competitive in regional and world markets.
The Deputy Prime Minister touted in his Independence Day address that the economy was on the mend and that it was clear skies ahead. That is hard to believe when in fact Public Debt remains at over one hundred percent. Growth continues to be feeble at just over 1%. The budget presented in April 2018 was focused mainly on reduction of capital expenditure while current expenditure remained constant. The broadening of the tax base has not occurred only an increase in GST for electricity and data was imposed which in fact worsened the business environment. Our foreign reserves just barely cover three months’ worth of imports. All is definitely not well on the horizon.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has failed in every aspect of its function. It has not protected our territorial integrity and neither our sovereignty. The Acting Prime Minister in his address to the nation could boast of no new industries or foreign investment influx. The trade deficit of our country threatens to cripple us as we import far more than we export. The present government has no new ideas on how to decrease the trade deficit and no ideas on how to attract investment or keep the ones we had. Patrick is still waiting on his newest version of government to upload and while he is waiting for version 2.0 Belizeans will have a brand new and improved 3.1 whenever elections are called.