While Belizeans are preparing to minimize the public health and the domestic financial impacts of the COVID-19, we entertained a what-if scenario where trade between nations is negatively impacted because of the pandemic.
We've regularly reported on the growing external trade imbalance, where the country imports significantly more than it exports. According to the SIB, in 2019, the country imported 2 billion dollars worth of goods, while exporting a little more than 411 million dollars in products. So, if international trade - like tourism and travel - were negatively affected because of the coronavirus, Belizeans would definitely feel that pain due to all those goods and services we import.
The trade imbalance was a topic that PUP Senator Luis Zabaneh brought up at Wednesday's Senate Budget Debate. Here's what he had to say while bringing his own visual aid into the Upper Chamber to make his point:
Hon Luis Zabaneh - PUP Senator
"The value of exports to countries with which Belize has a trade agreement. It certainly needs to be filled in accurately. This would give you the impression that it's zero. And so, these are things that suggest to me that there has not been adequate attention to promoting exports that a developing country like Belize, a small open economy like Belize should be getting. Mr. President, I've prepared a graph - with your permission, I'd like to show you - that looks at our trade deficit over the period 2008 to 2019. This graph, Mr. President if I may hold it up this way, and then we'll give our folks up there a chance to view it. This graph, I call the trade report card for 2008 to 2019. If you look at the line at the top, we're looking at imports. The line at the top looks at imports. The line at the bottom, the middle line is exports, and the line at the bottom is the difference. The difference between exports and imports. That's our trade deficit. So, starting from 2,008, I have the numbers here, the specific exact numbers that come from Central Bank of Belize the Statistical Institute of Belize."
"In 2008, exports were around 960 million dollars. By 2019, exports had fallen to 489 million dollars, a drop of 49%. Then imports, on the other hand, in 2008, we had imports 1.5 billion dollars that grew by 2019 to 1.9 billion dollars. That's a 25% increase over the same period. Look at what happened over that period. Over that period, imports soared, and exports plummeted. That is absolutely the inverse of what we really want in a small open economy. We want exports to soar, and imports to go down."
Godwin Hulse, the Senate's Leader of Government Business, chose to respond to a few of the points raised about the country's exports. As the Minister of Agriculture, he has insight into agricultural exports, and here's what he had to say about their performance at this time:
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Agriculture
"In terms of our major exports, last year, we did the best ever in the region in sugar, 256,000 tonnes. We were the biggest in the Caribbean, and we were fortunate to be able to get our Belizean sugar finally accepted in COTED as a commodity that in certain areas, can replace the refined sugar that they import from extra-regional sources, which is a tremendous up for it because the Caribbean market has the best prices. We suffered from a drought and this year, the sugar production will be reduced. That is nobody's fault. That is not the private sector. It's not the public sector. And we've moved measures with dispatch to try to recover. In terms of the shrimp, unfortunately, they suffer from early death syndrome, and the government has worked with the producers in the shrimp industry in various technologies."
"And we have supported the injection of Social Security money and DFC money, to help them to buffer back the survival of that industry. Citrus, from my honourable colleague, says suffers from its own aids. It has Huanglongbing, which is a Chinese name for the greening. And it has depleted the industry, despite all the efforts, Social Security again injection lots of money, DFC injecting lots of money. It is recovering. There are new plantings going on with what is called tolerant varieties. Bananas have done really really well, but we've been informed by Fyffes that that will be cut in half. That's not our cutting. That's the European Union. So, that already chops that. We don't what will happen with shrimp. We've understood that there are some difficulties even continuing to get it into Mexico. So, we will take hits on the revenue side of that. We have cattle in abundance. We're the only country in the region free of tuberculosis and brucellosis, but again, the Guatemalans have slammed their doors. So, we're having some difficulty getting that cattle into Guatemala. We are trying our best."
The Statistical Institute of Belize has released its latest figures for the country's external trade for February 2020.
They are noting that Belize's total imports last month were valued at $150.5 million dollars. That's a 3.1% increase over February 2019's numbers, which were totaled at $146 million dollars.
In stark contrast, exports fell by 22.9% last month, when compared to February 2019. The country exported about 19.8 million dollars in goods in February 2020. But, in February 2019, exports totaled 25.7 million dollars.