An enlargeable map of Belize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Belize has a small, domestically focused economy that has experienced solid but unspectacular growth over the past twenty years thanks to strong population growth and the gradual development of its tourism sector, as well as a generally pro-business policy by both major political parties.
Belize benefits strongly from its historic links to the United Kingdom and the tradition of free market capitalism it inherited, as well as the corporate legal framework integral to the British Common Law system. Although once dominated by a small number of “colonial” corporate entities, Belize now has a remarkably open economy where major international investors have been able to acquire and control significant assets such as the major electricity and water utilities. Nonetheless it should be noted that shortly after gaining power in 2008, the Barrow administration re-nationalized Belize Telemedia Ltd. (the dominant telecom utility) in order to remove it from the control of British financier Michael Ashcroft, which the Barrow administration appeared to feel was playing too large a role in Belize’s economy as he also owned the country’s largest bank.
Belize’s 2010 GDP was estimated at USD 1.40 billion (official exchange rates) and USD 2.65 billion on a purchasing power parity basis. GDP grew at about a 4% compound rate from 1990-2008, although growth slowed considerably since then as a result of the global financial crisis. After remaining flat in 2009, it is estimated that Belize’s GDP grew by 2.0% in 2010, and is poised to return to trend-line growth of 3%-5% in 2011.
Belize’s 2010 GDP was categorized into three major sectors (CIA Fact Book):
· Agriculture: 22%
· Industry: 20%
· Services: 58%
Within the Services category, Tourism is estimated to represent less than 10% of GDP. 2010 Imports (All categories) totaled USD 647 million, with the main trading partners being the U.S. (34%) and Central America (21%). 2010 Exports (All categories) totaled USD 476 million, with the main trading partners being the U.S. (46%), the UK (26%), and the Central America/CARICOM region (17%)
Belize’s major crops in 2010, based on export values were:
· Orange Juice concentrate: USD 47.0 million
· Sugar & Molasses: USD 32.0 million
· Bananas: USD 36.0 million
USA Passport: Canada, Mexico, Belize, USA (Photo credit: dcgreer)
No specific data for the Tourism Sector are available from either the Central Bank of Belize or the Belize Central Statistical Office, but Tourism is estimated to generate in excess of USD 200 million in foreign currency revenues according to Central Bank of Belize statistics.
Belize exported an estimated 4,000 bbl./day of crude petroleum in 2009 and imported some 7,200 bbl./day of refined petroleum products. There are no crude oil refineries in Belize.
Belize’s labor force was estimated at 120,500 in 2007, of which 10.2% was employed in agriculture, 18.1% in industry and 71.7% in services.
2009 Unemployment was estimated at 13.1%.
Construction was estimated to represent 3.9% of GDP in 2008.
Coat of arms of Belize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Belize, as of 12/31/2010 the Government of Belize had approximately 368 million Belize dollars of internal debt, mostly in the form of short term Treasury Bills (BZD 153 million) used by the Central Bank to regulate the domestic money supply and long term Treasury Notes (BZD 137 million) used for general government funding.
According to the Central Bank of Belize, external debt (12/2010) was USD 2.02 billion, of which US$1.113 billion was commercial debt and USD 905 million was intergovernmental/agency debt.
External commercial debt represents 80% of GDP at official rates, total external debt represents 144% of GDP and total government debt, internal and external, represents 151% of GDP.
Geoffrey de Sibert is the Joint Executive Manager of Belize Agricultural Enterprises, an investment and development firm based on Soledad, California.