Historically, the first quarter for Belize has been the most important….principally because it is the peak period for our largest income earner tourism.

First quarter imports in 2013 were $580 million…..just over 31% of total imports for that year of $1.856 billion. First quarter exports in 2013 were $249.1 million….just over 39% of total domestic exports of $627.5 million.

Therefore, when the first quarter goes well…..it is good news for the economy.

First quarter imports for 2014 were reported at $602 million….an increase of 3.8% over 2013. Exports for the same period were reported at $204.6 million….a decrease of around 18%.

We had better make hay while the sun shines…..and grow tourism by leaps and bounds to make up for this growing visible trade gap.

There are various observations that are interesting:

1. The Commercial Free Zone reported imports of $100.9 million for this period in 2013….however, only $38 million were reported under “re-exports”. This year, CFZ reported importing $82.26 million….but only $7.44 million were reported as “re-exports”. This begs the question….what happens to ALL the goods imported into the CFZ, which is not “re-exported”?

2. Export Processing Zones reported increasing their imports during this period from $24.85 million in 2013, to $28.74 million in 2014. They report no exports. This begs the questions….what happens to all the goods imported into EPZ’s? If EPZs do not export….why are they called Export Processing Zones, and given 20-year tax HOLIDAY? If they do export…..why is it not recorded as “export from EPZs”? in a form so that we know which EPZ’s are exporting and which are not?

3. Pepper sauces exports increased from $735,800 in 2013, to $958,000 in 2014….a healthy increase of 30%. Pepper farming should be expanding acreages and pepper farmers growing their wealth….where are they located so that I may find them?

4. Red Kidney beans exports increased from $5.53 million in 2013, to $7.17 million in 2014….a healthy 30%.

5. Black eye peas went from $1.12 million, to $1.78 million….a growth of 59%. These last two are rising stars? What is their full potential? How can more Belizeans benefit from participation?

6. Crude oil exports fell from $58.46 million to $40.06 million….a drop of 31%. A rapidly falling star? Do these numbers reflect the fact? Who is checking? At this rate of decline, we should be down to around ZERO within three years….failing new finds. What plans do we have to make up for this loss?

7. Everything else that we export went down…..citrus, sugar, banana, papaya, molasses….except for marine products (principally farmed shrimps) which grew from $21.38 million in 2013 to $27.84 million in 2014, a growth of 30%. Another rising star? What is the cost-benefit to Belize of farming shrimps here? Nova Shrimps was given a lot of “free” land in Belize, Stann Creek and Ambergris Caye….have those lands been returned to the government and people of Belize for lack of fulfillment of development commitments? or is someone making a mint of “real estate” of these thousands of acres of prime lands obtained from GOB for “free” for the purpose of investment in shrimp farming?

8. For April, imports from Dominica went up from $126,000 in 2013 to $188,100 in 2014…..this is principally Kubuli beer. Imports from St. Lucia went down from $278,000 to $107,000….this is principally Heineken. So you can see that Kubili growth is cannibalizing Heineken, not necessarily affecting the local Belikin beer business….which recorded growth as should be expected from the growing tourism and domestic alcoholism. LOL

9. Belize exports to CARICOM countries fell from $30.7 million to $24 million….a drop of 22%. Imports from CARICOM were reported to increase from $17.3 million to $20 million. We should be exporting a lot more to CARICOM…what targets have we set, if any? What is our national plan for CARICOM exports? When has our Foreign Trade Directorate EVER attempted and succeeded in anything at COTED in an effort to increase Belize exports to CARICOM?

10. Consumer prices…..ground beef up 16.8%…..red kidney beans up 20.2%…..eggs up 11%….cabbage up 44.2%….yellow onions up 26.9%. Belizeans need to go back to soil…..there is money to be made now from agriculture production…but most already sold out their lands for cheap and moved to towns and cities. Export demand for some commodities are pushing up prices….and hurting Belizean consumers…..this should not be. Domestic pricing for commodities fully protected on the domestic market through licensing should be based on a COST-PLUS formula, and not based on Chicago Board of Trade indexing.

11. 14% of our imports in April 2014 came from Curacao. Yet we know that Curacao is a very small island in the Dutch Caribbean that does not produce much….but are involved in financial offshore services and shipping. That begs the question…..what is the true origin of those goods currently being reported as originating from Curacao? Does this trade involve goods that want to avoid Miami port? Does this trade have anything to do with under-invoicing and avoidance of paying the right customs duties in Belize when the goods arrive here?

12. Our imports from Guatemala increased in April from $10.12 million in 2013 to $12.17 million in 2014….an increase of 20%. Panama imports rose from $3.534 million to $6.25 million….an increase of 77%. Imports from the rest of Central America fell…..but total imports from Central America rose slightly from around $22 million to $23 million. Our domestic exports to Central America does not even reach $0.5 million….although a steady grey market export trade for corn, beef cattle, molasses, sugar, dressed chicken and eggs is known to be ongoing across the porous Guatemala border.

This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.