Belize's First Investment Summit Kicks Off
This evening, representatives of the Government and members of the local and international business community are enjoying an evening of relaxation in San Pedro, reflecting on the first day of the first Belize Investment Summit.
As we told you, that's an event that the Briceno Government is hoping will heat up Belize's investment climate. Our news team was in San Pedro for the first day of activities which lasted a continuous 9 hours.
Tomorrow, we'll have a deep dive into the event, but for tonight's coverage of the first-ever summit, we have an excerpt of the keynote addresses from Prime Minister Briceno and the Guest Speaker, Stephen Harper, the former Canadian Prime Minister:
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"I am truly excited to host the first ever Belize Investment Summit. I am eve more excited to see the interest that has been generated through our digital and face to face marketing which is evidence by your presence here and virtually. We change with the times and so today we are engaged in what is truly a hybrid event. You see we are fully convinced that we can create an environment conducive to economic transformation. Investment provides an opportunity for growth in micro, small, medium and large enterprises. I am convinced that if we create initiatives which include access to finance and a more seamless enabling mechanism that we can rebuild our economy with MSMEs at its foundation and without compromising economic initiatives of the larger enterprises. We also must look at the non-traditional industries and shouldn't forget the contribution of the service industries to our gross domestic product. This first of a kind summit is being hosted under the theme "Belize Open for Business". I know some of you may be asking why open for business? aren't you always for business? Well, the answer is simple. The covid19 pandemic has negatively affected economies worldwide and for developing countries like ours it is no different. I think it's not only more different, but it's even more challenging for our small developing countries like Belize. The global downturns affect us where supply chains quickly become disruptive causing challenge to trade. In addition, we hear about doing business in Belize and the challenges it has posed for investors both foreign and local. These challenges create problems and make us not as competitive as we should be. Our government's response is crucial. For this reason, cabinet is focused and our approach is all in. It's all hands on deck."
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Former PM, Canadian Government
"As we all know the tourist industry is a great provider of lots of jobs, but they are often large quantities of low paying jobs. There are other opportunities in sectors and the real opportunity for Belize, one frankly that I see reflected in a lot of current policies is getting some portion of that wealthy tourist segment to relocate here. In some cases, to start businesses but in others to at least use a greater volume of higher end professional services like accountants, investment managers, lawyers, medical professionals - lot of growth in those areas could significantly add to the growth you see here in business processing operations. But to fully seize that kind of opportunity I suggest a deliberate and strategic focus on your education sector. Attracting foreign expertise is important, but don't lose sight of Belize's successful model of integration and economic participation. Ensure that your own citizens have the opportunity to develop the skills that align with your economy starting with expertise."
PM Briceño Opens Investment Summit
The first ever Belize Investment Summit opened today on La Isla Bonita, San Pedro with potential investors arriving from around the hemisphere. The convergence is designed to attract much-needed capital for Belize’s development post-COVID and diversify the economy. Prime Minister John Briceño opened the Summit by saying Belize has many advantages, yes, but he was unyielding when it comes to investors who might want to change Belize too much to suit their own plans.
Prime Minister John Briceño
“The issue of the rule of law; the parliamentary system that we have; we have a stable economic system of governance; we are English-speaking; and that we are uniquely placed in Central America, having access to the United States – the largest economy in the world, Mexico, the rest of Central America and the Caribbean, so there are so many opportunities that we have and as a small country, we are small enough to be nimble enough to make the necessary changes that the COVID-19 pandemic expects of small countries like ours.”
“Sir, some investors, particularly in infrastructure development are adamant in getting their way when it comes to development, infrastructure. How do we as a small country not compromise the conservation laws that protect us and actually make Belize stand out as a pristine location?”
Prime Minister John Briceño
“Well, that is for us, non-negotiable, that you come to Belize not to go to a shopping mall. You come to Belize because of the natural beauty that our Creator has blessed us with. And now we have a moral responsibility to future generations to protect it. In my speech at COP26, that’s the very point that we’re making. We small countries are doing our part and now you have the bigger, developed countries don’t want to do their part. We have the opportunity in Belize to be able to have what you call twenty-twenty vision. We’ve seen what they have done wrong and now we have to ensure that we do not make those mistakes, which lead now to your question about the developers that come to Belize and want to put infrastructure in many instances recklessly or the way they want. If that’s the kind of infrastructure investment that you want to come to Belize and do, you are not welcome.”
Stephen Harper on How Belize Can Capitalize on International Exposure
Keynote Speaker at today’s Investment Summit was former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who has a consulting and advisory company in Canada. He focused on the measures that Belize needs to take to capitalize on maximizing its exposure to the rest of the world and reaping the benefits of that exposure.
Stephen Harper, Keynote Speaker
“I don’t really see the country doing anything wrong, but what I have seen in a lot of places, especially when it comes to infrastructure, is government is trying to do too much themselves. And not only is that costly, but sometimes you can just be way off market and the investments just don’t turn out the way they should which is why I recommended in many of these areas, the government in these areas in its investment must do human physical digital infrastructure that would try to involve the private sector to make sure that the investments are really gonna be cost effective.”
“Some of our restrictions compared to other countries are thought to be a bit restrictive, a bit strict for visitors. Do you think mask wearing is one of them? And, a lot of the tourists that come here are not prepared to abide by the COVID restrictions that we have. Do you think that will be a hindrance for us, and what advice would you have on that?”
“I run an international business, and before COVID, I was traveling seventy percent of
the time. It’s really only since the middle of September that I have been able to travel widely again. So I don’t think the fact that restrictions have been difficult here is not unique. There have been difficult restrictions in a lot of places. I must tell you that in terms of countries that I have gone to recently, this was relatively easy to come to in terms of testing. Mask wearing, we may not like it, but it’s not hard to do. But you know,
there are lots more countries that have much more difficult testing and vaccination
requirement so I personally haven’t found it that difficult to come here. But, these COVID regulations are all a temporary phenomenon anyway. Six months from now, I think we’ll be past it all.”
Leader of the Opposition Attends Investment Summit
Also present at the official launch of the Belize Investment Summit was Leader of the Opposition Patrick Faber. While he is usually one of the government’s toughest critics, today he was being a team player. He spoke to reporters at the event.
Patrick Faber, Leader of the Opposition
“You are correct in referring to us as the harshest critic of the government. By the nature of our position, as I’ve always maintained, that when we need to unite for Belize, we will be there for that. And, so far as things have been happening with this summit, I hope that we are a team player, that we are a partner in helping to get things rebound in Belize’s economy, and clearly an event like this is a very costly one, and those criticisms will come, I am sure. But, we believe that if this kind of investment will yield the kind of productivity, the kind of investment that the government is hoping to achieve here, then it might be all worth it.”
Local Businesses Hoping to Gain From International Investments
The Summit is something that business people in the agriculture sector have been waiting for. People like Ernest Thiessen who represent some three hundred dairy farmers, and Hazelita Kuylen, whose rice and corn production company needs investment dollars in order to thrive.
Ernest Thiessen, Belize Dairy Association
“At the moment we’re only producing about twenty percent of the consumption of milks in Belize that is produced in the local market, and so there is quite a bit of interest in growing the industry. Therefore, we would like to see if we could either partner or have someone do investments on behalf, and the country can grow and create more jobs and keep the dollar home and more so that we could have sustainable job creation.”
Hazelita Kuylen, Representative, Belize Sunrise Ltd.,
“There is a lot of shortage of corn in Guatemala and Mexico and also rice. So, we have a lot of contacts, both in Mexico and Guatemala, that have contacted us personally, myself and my other two business associates, and they are willing to purchase all the rice and the corn that we produce one we are in production. Hence, the reason we are here, looking for investment in order to form our own rice, package it, padded rice or packaged rice, corn, be it for animal feed or for human consumption.”