High world prices for oil and citrus caused Belize's economy to grow 2.7 per cent, according to the latest statistics published by the Statistical Institute of Belize last week.

Figures for the last three months of 2011 aren't in yet, but in the first nine months of this year, the Belizean economy grew 2.7% as compared to only 1.8% for the same period last year.

This prosperity was fuelled in large part by a rise in world oil prices as Belize's export earnings grew 7.8% to $604 million for January to October 2011, as foreign importers were willing to pay for Belize's sweet crude petroleum.

This caused the earnings from our exports to rise by $64.12 million. The value of citrus concentrate exported also rose by $14.7 million, more than off-setting a $15.1 million drop on the earnings from banana exports.

Agricultural earnings dipped 5% and the electricity and water sectors were down almost 3%.

All other economic sectors showed an increase, with trade, retail and wholesale, showing a 7.7% growth.

Hotels and restaurants also reported a 2.1% hike in business, derived in part from a 3.3% increase in overnight tourist arrivals. Tourism also proved a boon for the transport and communications sector which grew 2.5%.

Fishing and construction also reported good news, as earnings from the fisheries sector increased 14.5%, while the construction industry showed a 7.4% rise.

Increases in the price of fuel and food caused the overall consumer price index to rise by 1.2% for the period from February to October 2011, increasing on average 0.3% per month, even though fuel prices and the cost of food and beverages did dip slightly in March.

Basic food items increased in price about 0.5% per month on average, with vegetables showing the highest increase of 19.7%, fats and oils rose in price 9.4% and butter, cheese and other dairy products increased in price 6.5%. Sea food, once the traditional staple of Belize's poor, rose 4.89% in price, while meats rose 3.5%.

The overall cost of living did not rise so sharply, because the price of rice fell 2.4%. While this was good news for consumers, it was bad for rice farmers. Fresh fruit prices also fell 5.4%.

The value of imports also increased by 19.9% over last year's figures for the same period. Imports from January to October 2011 totalled $1.35 billion, which was a $224.1 million increase over the same period last year.

The Corozal Free Zone increased its imports by $98.9 million, our national fuel and lubricants bill went up $58.5 million, and the citrus and shrimp industries showed imports valued at $35.5 million.

Belize still buys most of its imports from the United States, which supplied 31.5% of our imports over the past 10 months.

Trade with Central America and China remained stable at 29% of the country's imports.

The U.S. remains our largest trading partner, as they also bought 57.7% of our exports as compared to 43.1% last year, while trade with the former colonial power, Great Britain, has slacked off from 27.9% last year to only 19.9% this year.

The Reporter