by Mike Campbell
Since the days of Colonialism Belize has been mired in an inability to prosper sufficiently to advance the standard of living of the population as a whole. Some of the population have prospered but the majority of the population is locked in a cycle of agrarian poverty and village sustenance economics. Wide spread poverty exists in all three forms; food poverty, capabilities poverty and asset poverty. The family farm or shop usually but not always makes just enough to survive but never enough to really move forward. There are few jobs that require a higher level of education hence there is no incentive for parents to require their children to complete basic high school education much less continue into the university system. Additionally many of our agricultural sectors are not competitive on the world market. What agricultural products we do produce are difficult to market because of lack of processing facilities and lack of access to international markets by our small producers. Coupled with difficult road conditions and expensive fuel the typical rural Belizean has no hope of selling more than a few heads of cabbage to our local market if weather permits. It is well known there are many niche crops that could be grown in Belize however the obstacles in developing these industries are very difficult to overcome for any individual.
The most successful colonies expanded their economies by way of industrialization and massive infrastructure projects. Belize has always been and is being exploited for its natural resources by both foreigners and Belizeans alike. We have never developed the means to locally process our natural resources and hence add value and by successful marketing, expand our economy.
Indeed there are many problems associated with establishing viable manufacturing and processing industries in Belize. Lack of raw materials, high cost of electricity, high cost of fuel, lack of trained work force, lack of a developed market, and an inadequate transportation system are some of the major challenges we face in the task of bringing our nation out of the poverty that currently grips much of the population and government. To some degree we must industrialized to survive. We simply don't have enough tax base to provide basic community services to the citizens of our nation. We cannot reasonably expect to raise revenue by raising taxes on an overstressed economy with ingrained poverty at the levels we have.
Our plan is a logical extension of what history has taught us. We propose to move Belize forward by massive infrastructure projects coupled with planned industrial expansion. This is a course that has proven successful in other colonies and should work for us as well. The spine of our program will be an International Super Highway connecting the rich farmlands and affluent populations of Guatemala with the markets of Cancun and North America.
As the International Highway bends around Belize City it will intersect with a sister Super Highway ending at the Guatemala border on the Western Frontier. As the development of these highways progress we will develop industrial zones at appropriate locations next to the highways. These zones will operate much as our current EPZ’s but will provide small farmers and manufacturers with cooperative processing and marketing facilities enabling them to add value to their products and be able to access markets by way of the International Highway.
This new Western Super Highway will make transportation of passengers, goods and materials from the Cayo District much safer and practical in all weather and provide a better link to our neighbor. Too many have lost their lives on the Western Highway and the human cost alone makes this part of the project worthwhile. This will enhance accessibility to the capitol in Belmopan as well as allow for the ever-growing tourism industry in the Cayo District to continue to expand in a safer fashion. As this district also produces much of our local agricultural goods the increased accessibility of the farmers and other producers to an efficient transportation system and processing facilities will benefit us all.
As the development of these highways progress we will develop industrial zones at appropriate locations next to the highways. These zones will operate much as our current EPZ’s but will provide small farmers and manufacturers with cooperative processing and marketing facilities enabling them to add value to their products and be able to access markets by way of the International Highway.
As the new highway system opens there will be a reasonable way to import raw materials and export finished products or agricultural goods. These factors will all work together to make industrial development possible in Belize. As we attract factories by giving away land in the new Industrial Zones we will also attract more highly educated professionals to operate these new facilities. This will speed our transfer of technology and encourage our youths to seek higher education to fill these newly created positions and our educational system will start to develop according to the needs placed upon it. As we all know the current brain drain retards our national capacities and retards the development of our society as the cream of the crop often stay abroad after going to university as there are no jobs suitable for their educational level in Belize. The expansion of the number of professionals and professions represented in Belize will further help our
society mature and grow.
This highway can be financed entirely by private sector. The piece meal infrastructure projects we now undertake have no lasting economic impact. We must maximize the efficient use of our resources and make sure that the money we spend creates lasting jobs or meaningful infrastructure.
The second prong of the infrastructure development will be the construction of schools so that in the years to come we will have an educated work force to fuel our economic expansion.
Outline for Discussion: Concept being we must not export raw materials without adding value through processing
1. List of underdeveloped industries and how they could be developed using the Industrial Zones and new Highway system.
a. Sugar, which should be given high priority. Find investor or capital to build ISO refinery to compete with Guatemala produced sugar. Transport sugar to port by road instead of barge? ISO sugar as raw ingredient for our fruit beverage industry.
d. Citrus & Cacao
e. Transportation of goods, trucking companies.
2. List of potential industries that do not currently exist but could be developed using Industrial Zones and Highway system.
a. Consumer ready frozen seafood products
b. Seaweed and agar
Agricultural products, Star fruit, Dragon fruit, Mangoes, fruit drinks, pistachios. Cahune Palm oil, processed coconut.
d. Rain forest pharmaceuticals, Noni, Graviola (Soursap),
3. Manufacturing industries, government sponsored or owned needed now or generated by the project.
a. Covintec factory
b. Packaging factories to produce packaging for our exports?
Power company using wind or solar technologies.
d. Identify other industries that we need to develop as a base for future industrial development. Identify and target specific industries and companies that we need to achieve our development goals.
Discussion of impacts of these industries on the economy with attention given to how it will directly affect government income. Goal: double GNP in 10 years, lower GST, eliminate income tax on wages. Change tax base to lower importance of duties, lower duties enhancing imports and lowering domestic prices of imported goods. Restore government efficiencies to private sector standards.