General information/ Investment environment type profile:
Belize is a small Caribbean country located in the north-eastern coast of Central America bordering Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. With a population of more than 340,000 people, Belize is also one of the countries with the lowest population densities in the world and with a gross national income per capita of US $4,659.95 (2012).
In an effort to address the persisting problem of low income levels, trade has become an important tool to achieve the objectives of sustainable and equitable economic development for Belize’s population base. Belize has thus become a signatory to the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and the Central American Integration System (SICA). The country is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has signed a number of preferential trade agreements, the most important being the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (2008).
Over the years since achieving political independence in 1981, Belize’s external trade has increased and diversified substantially. In 2012, the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) reported that Belize’s top domestic exports were crude petroleum, sugar, orange concentrate and bananas with crude petroleum being the most valuable of these. In the marine products sector, wild caught lobster and conch remain strong exports and the farming of Pacific white shrimp has remained a lucrative venture. Belize still has an undeveloped services sector but the sub-sector of tourism has experienced significant growth as Belize has also became a leading tourism destination since independence.
With its production and capacity expanding, Belize’s top export markets include the United States, the United Kingdom, Central America, other countries such as Holland in the European Union and the larger CARICOM markets including Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados.
As local businesses gain access to new markets and expand their production base, Belize is putting in place international standards and technical regulations for goods and services as it relates to their quality and safety. The CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) has established guidelines that oblige CARICOM Member States to adopt all regional standards developed through this body. Standards range from electrical cables to the packaging of water and agricultural products.
In the area of investment, Belize’s Investment Policy and Regulation Unit oversees policy development to support private sector investment in key identified sectors of the economy. This includes the oversight of various fiscal incentive schemes administered by the Ministry and its subsidiary units. Additionally, the Unit currently has full responsibility for the development of policy and for the licensing and regulation of Gaming and Lottery operators. Its responsibilities also expand to the direct policy oversight for the following agencies: The Export Processing Zone Committee, The National Free Zone Authority, the Gaming Control Board, and the Lotteries Committee.
In order to facilitate private sector development and exportation of goods and services, the Belize Trade and Investment Development Services (BELTRAIDE) was created specifically to enhance and strategically engage the productive sector by supporting and developing Belize’s micro, small and medium enterprise sector.
As Belize continues to access new markets, trade will accrue many benefits for the country including increased employment opportunities that are more stable, higher paying jobs contributing to a better and higher standard of living, an increase in the productive base that will develop the private sector and more lucrative investments that will attract more capital and technology and allow for the sharing of best practices in labour, quality and environmental standards.