The Statistical Institute of Belize held its second press conference for this year. Today, S.I.B. released the figures for G.D.P. and inflation rate. In short, S.I.B. confirms that the basket of food rose sharply in 2013 as compared to 2012; by as much as four percent. But to get to the grocery stores transportation costs also shot up by five percent. The highest rate of inflation was felt in Corozal and Belmopan. The S.I.B. figures also show that the economic growth rate of zero point seven is the lowest since 2009 when it stood at zero point three percent. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

With the advent of a new national budget a little over a month away, the country’s economic performance during the fiscal year 2013 is the subject of a comprehensive review recently conducted by the Statistical Institute of Belize.  The evaluation is a quarterly consideration of various factors which together make up the gross domestic product, including the sugar, petroleum and citrus industries.  GDP, however, is relative to an increase in the supply of currency or credit when compared with the availability of goods and services, resulting in higher prices and a decrease in the purchasing power of the Belizean dollar.

Glen Avilez, Director, Statistical Institute of Belize

Glen Avilez

“We saw a continuation of the trend that started in August of last year, where prices started to move at a much faster rate than in the early part of 2013.  In January, prices were roughly one point eight percent higher than they were in the same month of last year.  What were the two items that contributed to this increase?  It was largely food and transportation prices.”

Those aforesaid influences are largely attributable to the fact that Belizeans are spending significantly on bringing in food and fuel from the external market.

Glen Avilez

“In the case of food, those prices were up by an average of four percent, transportation – five percent.  Food was heavily influenced by fresh vegetables, beans significantly up in that month when compared to the same month [in] 2013.”

The upward trend can be seen as the result of a growing departure from locally grown produce.  Corozal Town and Belmopan recorded the highest inflation rates in 2013.  The average cost per pound of tomato is twice as much now than it was a year ago; whereas the price of sweet peppers, cabbage, red kidney and black beans have increased by no less than twenty percent.

The overall cost of transportation is compounded by higher drivers’ license fees and the rise in international airfares.  Fuel prices, on the other hand, have remained fairly constant at the pumps over the twelve-month period, despite a steady fall in oil production.

Glen Avilez

“Crude oil production fell for a fourth consecutive year.  In 2009, average production per day was about forty-four hundred barrels.  In 2013, it is just about half that amount that was produced.  And it is not because that they are trying to influence prices for the lower production.  The reality is that the reserves are being depleted.  So that is likely to go down even further in the years to come.”

The plummet in three primary industries within the agro sector undoubtedly affects the country’s income as well.  The decrease in sugarcane harvest, citrus and banana production in 2013 also impacts on GDP.

Glen Avilez

“There were significant falls in sugarcane and citrus harvests.  In the case of sugarcane it was partly attributed to the delayed start of the current crop season, so there was no production in November or December.  The crop should have started around the third week of November but, you know, that was delayed.  Citrus, because of the production cycle, you had a very good year in 2012 and normally after a bumper crop the industry will peter off and then you’ll have lower levels of output.  And it was also influenced or affected by the citrus greening disease.”

The fact that those industries floundered in 2013 is reflected in a decrease in GDP growth rates.  The economy constricted substantially, from a growth of four percent in 2012, to a mere zero point seven percent last year.  Interestingly, fisheries outperformed the construction, distribution and hotels and restaurants sectors.

Glen Avilez

“This industry stood out as the single largest contributor to that zero point seven growth that we saw earlier for 2013 and this was largely facilitated by the reopening of Belize Aquaculture Ltd., a large shrimp farm in southern Belize.  And as a result of that export receipts of shrimp soared by eighty-one percent to fifty-two million dollars last year.”

Projections for the upcoming fiscal year seem promising, as it is expected that there will be a significant rebound in the sugarcane industry.  The factual information used to produce the GDP is gathered from various sources, including production figures from the major industries, as well as organizational data from various government agencies. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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