For the past five years, Belize's trade imbalance has been growing – that means that the country consistently imports more goods than it exports. 

The disparity is cause for concern, and though it is an issue that confronts many small nations, the Directorate of Foreign Trade wants to ensure that they are doing all they can to maximize access to export markets. 

To get the job done, the Ministry of Economy Development, Petroleum, Investment, Trade and Commerce has put together a new trade strategy called the "National Trade Policy Framework". It's a 40 page document which takes an honest, hard look at all aspects of trade. After months of deliberation within the Ministry and Cabinet, it was finally unveiled this morning.

7News was there, and we spoke with the Director of Foreign Trade, and the Minister of State about it:

Dr. Leroy Almendarez - Director of Foreign Trade
"Well it's a framework and was mentioned by the minister under CARICOM under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas under chapter 5 it speaks to trade policy and really what it should establish because the main focus of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas has to do with economic development. Economic development for all member states and so in terms of trade what is the environment? Is the environment conducive to the the growth of every member state and so that is important. It is the same thing under the marrakesh agreement that established the WTO."

"From this framework will come the actual policy, the policy document but that policy document it will include extensive consultations. So we will be meeting with the private sector, the public sector. One of our major stakeholders the media has to be included because remember we need the media to get our message across and so in terms of environment, how do you trade. If you are having any kind of dispute, how disputes is settled because there is a dispute settlement under CARICOM and under the WTO."

Daniel Ortiz
"It is no secret that Belize imports more than it exports does this policy look at that and trying to get our exporters better opportunities to increase the traffic out instead of in?"

Dr. Leroy Almendarez - Director of Foreign Trade
"It does. As a matter of fact we're looking at the constraints. What is keeping back our exports? Now remember the public sector does not trade but what the public sector does in cooperation and in consultation with the private sector is to see where the short comings are."

Hon. Tracy Panton - Minister of State - Investment, Trade & Commerce
"We want to ensure as a government that whatever framework we have and whatever policy finally comes out of that framework will help to serve primarily the interest of Belize while not going against the conventions and agreements that we have signed in terms of trade facilitation between countries."

Dr. Leroy Almendarez - Director of Foreign Trade
"There is every effort because we continue to meet with the agricultural sector. Every effort to make sure that we meet those standards, that the cost of doing business is low because sometimes what affects that is the cost of doing business known as the cost of production. And once those cost have lowered through great efficiency, through technological advances then it simply means that you can get your products out even quicker. Greater efficiency, lower cost makes you more competitive and this policy framework addresses competitiveness."

Hon. Tracy Panton - Minister of State - Investment, Trade & Commerce
"I think that for Belize our focus is looking at not so much importation because there is really a huge imbalance in trade but looking at how we can get our goods and services up to the standards of exportation."

Of course, the policy framework is in its initial stages. The Ministry wants to consult with the private sector to ensure that the different fixes they want to implement actually help to alleviate the problems, rather than worsening them, or creating new ones.

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National Trade Policy Framework is Launched in Belize

Today the Ministry of Economic Development and stakeholders launched the National Trade Police Framework. That structure signifies approval by Cabinet to implement a comprehensive review to find common and fertile ground between multi-lateral and regional trade rules and the development needs of domestic producers, exporters and stakeholders. News Five’s Mike Rudon was at the launch this morning and has the story.

Mike Rudon, Reporting

This periodic review is designed to look at the new rules governing trade between Belize and its trading partners – rules which speak specifically to the economic development of all member states. Trade environment is a critical factor in economic growth.

Leroy Almendarez, Director-General, Foreign Trade

“This framework now looks at – what it does it provides a frame, an environment, in terms of how we would want to address the challenges. This framework is diagnostic, and prescriptive, because it has certain prescriptions on how we can address some of the challenges that we have. It’s not only looking at the challenges, but how we address the challenges.”

Tracy Taegar-Panton

Tracy Taegar-Panton, Minister of State, Economic Development

“Moving forward we want to ensure as a government that whatever framework we have and whatever policy finally comes out of that framework will help to serve primarily the interests of Belize while not going against the conventions and agreements that we have signed in terms of trade facilitation between countries.”

There is an implementation phase which will come out of this framework, including first and foremost a policy document.

Leroy Almendarez

“That policy document will include extensive consultations, so we will be meeting with the private sector, the public sector. One of our major stakeholders, the media, has to be included because we need to media to get our message across, and so in terms of environment how do you trade? If you’re having any kind of dispute how is that dispute settled because there is a dispute settlement under Caricom and under the WTO. But the most important part of this – the fact is that it will look at competition and how people compete, and to ensure that anti-competitive behavior is not being practiced, or continue to be practiced.”

Leroy Almendarez

The policy will also look at a most critical issue – that of the trade imbalance. For consecutive years Belize has imported far more than it exports, and the gap is widening.

Leroy Almendarez

“Remember the public sector does not trade. What the public sector does in cooperation and in consultation with the private sector is to see where the shortcomings are. We also know there are global markets. You have markets all over the globe. There are markets in Caricom and markets in the EU. If the UK breaks away one of our second largest trading partners is the UK. And so we look t export capacity. Where do you make investments because you want to make investments into products that can easily get into markets?”

Tracy Taegar-Panton

“I think that for Belize our focus is looking not so much at importation because there’s really a huge imbalance in trade, but looking at how we can get our goods and services up to the standards for exportation, and to create access to new opportunities and new markets for Belizean products and services.”

On the ground there are real challenges to the trade imbalance in the country, and in the country being able to boost its production to export readiness, particularly in agriculture.

Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton

“I think the time is actually right and certainly there is the political will, there is the political support to advance this agenda as quickly as we can. Our focus in Cabinet – one of the primary focus is Belize’s economy and how we continue to grow the economy in a way that is sustainable so that we don’t have to react with the external shocks that we have seen for example in agriculture. That is unfortunate that in the shrimp sector for example we are dealing with a disease but we have to insulate ourselves as best as we can from those kinds of internal and external shocks.”

The discussions continued today with presentations, discussions and a question and answer period with stakeholders and Ministry representatives.Mike Rudon for News Five.

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