U.S. STATEMENT: BELIZE TRADE POLICY REVIEW (Day 1)
Delivered by USTR Deputy Chief of Mission Christopher Wilson
April 24, 2017
Thank you, Chair. The United States would like to welcome the delegation from Belize on the occasion of its government’s third WTO Trade Policy Review. We thank the Government of Belize and the WTO Secretariat for their helpful reports on developments affecting trade in Belize since the last Trade Policy Review in 2010. And we thank Belize for providing responses to our previously submitted questions.
Though one of the Western Hemisphere’s smaller markets, Belize has an important role in the region as an open and growing economy and through its membership in this organization, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, and various regional political organizations. Its engagement has helped increase not only citizens’ prosperity, but also enhanced regional security and improved systems of good governance. It is also an important partner to the United States. Our countries continue to maintain close and cooperative relations. Bilateral trade in goods totaled $323 million in 2016, and the United States provides for duty-free import for a variety of products from Belize. The United States is home to the largest expatriate Belizean community, estimated to be more than 70,000. Reflective of Belize’s success in tourism, more than a million visitors come from the United States each year.
The Secretariat report notes Belize’s commendable reduction in its rate of unemployment since the last Review, from more than 23 percent to just six percent measured a year ago. This achievement is particularly remarkable given the cyclical nature of the economy and its dependence on key industries including the tourism sector that suffered – and is recovering from – a devastating hurricane in 2016. However, one of the challenges of governance is keeping expenditures under control relative to revenues, and the Secretariat’s Report notes Belize’s difficult fiscal situation. After missing a large bond payment in January, the government appears to recognize that it must rein in budgets across the board in order to keep its debt under control.
We believe a better fiscal environment will complement efforts to shift from a resource-focused economy to a trade-oriented economy. Indeed, Belize is well-suited to prioritize trade and structure its policies accordingly. Hydrocarbon exports have declined significantly since 2010, with the slack taken up by a relatively diversified mix of foodstuffs, agricultural, and other exports. But this welcome shift has not been accompanied by significant policy changes to support trade. The number of lines subject to tariffs have increased, and tariff rates themselves have inched up. These policies affect Belizean consumers, companies that utilize inputs for trade, and the increasingly vital tourism sector.
The United States welcomed Belize’s acceptance of the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2015. This agreement holds great promise for developing country Members to boost trade performance. However, the Secretariat report noted Belize’s low ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2016 study and pointed out that Belize can do better in Trade Facilitation indicators relative to countries in the region and countries of similar income. A step in this direction would be for the government to notify the WTO of its Category B and C commitments.
The Secretariat’s Report discussed the need for the Government of Belize to address prohibited export subsidies, applied MFN rates that breach the bound rate, and outstanding WTO notification requirements. We look to the Government of Belize to ensure these issues are addressed expeditiously, and appreciate Ambassador Vernon’s comments on these issues in the course of this morning’s discussions.
The United States would be pleased to see Belize adopt a more significant role at the WTO. As the report suggests, a representative in Geneva responsible for WTO affairs would be helpful. Belize could also demonstrate its commitment to intellectual property protection by joining the WIPO Internet Treaties.
The United States looks forward to continuing to work with Belize to increase prosperity in the hemisphere. With recent growth in tourism and services – along with its many natural advantages – Belize is on the right track. We encourage Belize, in the implementation of its National Trade Policy Framework, to focus on policies that enable greater trade and economic activity. And we thank Belize for its active participation in this process and wish Belize a successful Trade Policy Review.