WTO Trade Policy Review of Belize

November 3, 2010

Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke,
United States Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization

As Delivered

Thank you Mr. Chairman. The United States is pleased to welcome Mrs. Orla Kantun Coleman and the entire delegation from Belize to the WTO’s second Trade Policy Review of Belize. I would like to commend the representative from Belize for her opening statement, and the materials his government provided for this review. We would also like to recognize the Secretariat’s work in compiling the reports that we are considering today. Finally, I am pleased to thank our discussant, Mr. Declan Morrin, for his helpful and insightful contributions to this review.

Belize is a valued hemispheric partner of the United States. The United States is Belize’s largest trading partner, a major source of investment funds, and its largest provider of economic and military assistance. Approximately 5,000 American citizens live in Belize, almost a million visit annually, and the United States is home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize.

As Belize’s largest trading partner, the United States’ commercial relationship with that country remains vibrant. Our total two-way goods trade grew steadily during the second half of the last decade. It reached $499 million in 2008, before dropping to $354 million last year. In 2009, U.S. goods exports to Belize were $247 million and U.S. goods imports from that country totaled $107 million. Approximately 65 percent of total imports from Belize enter the United States duty free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative. We encourage Belize to utilize this program to the greatest extent possible.

As both the report from the Secretariat and the Government of Belize note, agriculture continues to play an important role in the economy. The sector contributes 18.1 percent to GDP and is responsible for 25.8 percent of employment. According to the government report, four traditional exports, namely, sugar, citrus, shrimp, and bananas, account for 57 percent of total exports. Although this figure has dropped from 87.7 percent in 2004, we encourage Belize to continue its work to diversify its exports as well as its economy.

We look forward to learning more about Belize’s efforts to diversify its economy, and we welcome the government’s thoughts about the potential for Belize’s economic growth in areas of identifiable advantages. For example, tourism holds excellent prospects since, as the Secretariat suggests, Belize has significant natural advantages– the world’s second largest coral reef, unspoiled forests, and ancient ruins – and is only a short flight from some major tourist markets. And, many Belizeans are fluent in both English and Spanish, which, in light of Belize’s geographical location, is an added advantage. The Secretariat report also highlights other assets, such as Belize’s untapped productive agricultural land. Given the importance of agriculture to the economy, Belize may consider additional steps to diversify this sector.

We also hope to hear more about the government’s efforts to attract additional investment and maintain economic growth. We encourage Belize to improve its business climate in order to enhance its international competitiveness. The World Bank’s Doing Business report, for example, cites areas in which the business environment is not conducive to investment and entrepreneurial activity. For example, the report cited the cost and length of time required to open a business, and the difficulty of enforcing contracts. Creating the policy conditions for private sector interests to invest in trade, including trade-related infrastructure, can be enormously helpful to Belize’s economic pursuits. We hope to hear more in this review about Belize’s plans to address these types of issues. In addition, we would be interested in learning more about Belize’s efforts to attract new foreign direct investment, specifically protections for investors, including respect for the decisions of arbitral bodies. We believe that such protections are crucial for creating an environment conducive to investment. Strong protection for intellectual property rights helps attract investment, and we look forward to learning more about Belize’s national enforcement strategy for intellectual property in the course of this review.

As this body is well aware, the United States champions the WTO’s work on trade facilitation, which holds such promise for developing country Members. As the Secretariat suggests, improvements in trade facilitation hold the promise for boosting Belize’s trade performance. We encourage Belize to continue to pursue its customs reforms that will allow for the electronic submission of customs documentation. We hope, too, that the foreseen creation in Belize of a Customs Tariff Board to deal with valuation and classification disputes will give rise to an improved structure for dispute resolution. We will be interested to know the status of the government’s efforts in this regard.

We have submitted some questions about specific issues regarding Belize’s trade regime, and we look forward to reviewing and discussing your government’s responses. From a WTO institutional perspective, the United States hopes that Belize’s authorities will pay more attention to the rules in some important areas of the government’s trade policy. For example, the Secretariat’s Report notes that Belize has not submitted notifications in a number of areas that the WTO Agreements require. We are disappointed to note that Belize has made no notifications to the TBT Committee, has not submitted its statement on the implementation and administration of the TBT Agreement, and has not notified the adoption of the Agreement’s Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards by the Belize Bureau of Standards. Understandably, we would like to know when Belize will fulfill these requirements. We hope that Belize will review the bidding on its WTO commitments and will take the necessary steps to address our concerns.

I would highlight, too, U.S. concerns about Belize’s main border protection tools, in particular its tariffs and its non-automatic import licensing system which it applies mainly to agricultural products and processed foods. We are concerned not only as a matter of our own self-interest, but especially as a matter for Belize’s trade and development objectives. We would urge Belize to consider that the significant binding overhang between applied and bound tariffs, as well as the apparently arbitrary and non-transparent nature of the licensing system, make Belize’s trading regime, as the Secretariat states, “less predictable”. These policies also have consequences for the domestic manufacturing industries that require access to available or affordable inputs for competitive production.

The United States will continue to work with Belize and the other CARICOM members to strengthen and deepen our relationship. We believe that developing countries such as Belize have much to gain from a balanced and ambitious result in the Doha negotiations that include meaningful new market access for all. A result that includes new market access in services, industrial goods and agriculture could further enhance opportunities for Belize to broaden its export base, its export markets and hence Belize’s opportunity to diversify. The United States looks forward to working with Belize and the other members of CARICOM toward bringing the round to a successful conclusion. And we offer all good wishes to your government for a successful Trade Policy Review.

Thank you.