REPORT #422 August 2001

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

The U.S. State Department Belize Profile for 2000 places tourism ahead of agriculture in its contribution to the GDP. Tourism contributed 22% to the GDP, agriculture contributed 12.7% (including sugar, citrus, fruits and juices, bananas, mangoes, papayas, honey, corn, beans rice and cattle) and industry, 14% including clothing, fruit processing and beverages. The State Department profile put tourist arrivals for 2000 at 189,634.

Also, of the 89,500 people employed in Belize as of April, 2000, 50.8% were service workers, only 27.2% worked in agriculture, 17.8% in industry and commerce and 4.2% in "other."

Other Statistics and information taken from the profile (including the statement that we have the highest electricity costs in Central America):

GDP (2000): $727.5 million.
Annual growth rate (2000): 8.2%; (1999): 6.4%.
Per capita income (2000): $2,913.
Avg. inflation rate (2000): 0.6%.
Trade (2000):

  • Exports--$228.6 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets--U.S. (48.5%), U.K., CARICOM.
  • Imports--$446 million: food, consumer goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products. Major suppliers--U.S. (49.7%), Mexico, U.K.
The rate of functional literacy is 75.1%.

About 60% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 40%. Mennonite settlers number about 7,160.

Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and energy and a small domestic market. The U.S. Embassy in Belize City knows of some 185 U.S. companies that have operations in Belize, including MCI, Duke Energy International, Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso.

Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment although significant U.S. investment also is found in the energy, telecommunications, and agricultural sectors.

A combination of natural factors--climate, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, numerous islands, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, jungle wildlife, and Mayan ruins--support the thriving tourist industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as its second development priority after agriculture. In 2000, tourist arrivals totaled 189,634 (more than 110,000 from the U.S.) and tourist receipts amounted to $113.3 million.

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region.

Initiated in 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, will continue to implement the IDB-funded "Modernization of Agricultural Health Project." This $2.5 million project seeks to improve the competitiveness of Belize's agricultural products and thus enhance the ability of Belizean farmers and processors to maintain and expand the sale of their high-quality products to foreign markets. A $5 million soybean project, funded by the Brazilian Government, is scheduled to begin in 2001 and is intended to assist northern Belize farmers to diversify away from sugarcane cultivation.

The Ministry of Tourism is confident that another IDB-funded project, the "Tourism Development Project," will make Belize the Mundo Maya centerpiece for travelers to Central America. The government will spend close to $1.4 million in improving access to archaeological sites in Belize, especially "Caracol."

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), a U.S. Government program to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products.

Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. EU and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries.

The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize, contributing approximately $4.17 million in various bilateral economic and military aid programs to Belize in FY 2000. The United States provided nearly $1 million in assistance to Belize to support its relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Keith, which devastated much of the country in October 2000. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996 after a 13-year program during which it provided $110 million worth of development assistance to Belize. In addition, during the past 34 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Belize. In April 2001, the Peace Corps had 47 volunteers working in Belize. In Punta Gorda, the International Bureau of Broadcasting/Voice of America (IBB/VOA) operates a medium-wave radio relay station which broadcasts to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

The U.S. military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize which included the construction of seven schools and four water wells by National Guard soldiers in Stann Creek District in 2000. Another "New Horizons" humanitarian assistance project is scheduled for 2003.

Private American investors, who are responsible for some $250 million of investment in Belize, continue to play a key role in Belize's economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

Back to Main Belize Development Trust Page

Maintained by Ray Auxillou, Silvia Pinzon, MLS, and Marty Casado. Please email with suggestions or additions for this Electronic Library of Belize.