Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2019. 8:40 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: It has not been for lack of trying, but according to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Belize’s economic fortunes continue to hold strong in the face of many obstacles, and he announced plans for new and diverse expansions.
The Prime Minister cited strong gross domestic product (GDP) of 5.2 percent in the first quarter, with a slight contraction of just under one percent in the second, which still puts ahead. Unemployment, measured twice per year, is at 7.6 percent. But as the P.M. pointed out, “Growth and development, however, have always been recognized as two different things. One does not necessarily include the other and in fact they can sometimes sharply diverge. When Belize therefore experiences a happy confluence of growth and development proceeding in tandem; of increased GDP resulting in increased jobs; of more people being put to work and being lifted out of poverty, it is indeed a conjuncture of which we can be proud.”
And speaking of confluences, the death of a visiting tourist on Ambergris Caye in July rattled the tourism industry; drought has ravaged crops and livestock to the tune of $50 million, and the demise of Atlantic International Bank Limited ( AIBL) in the Sanctuary Bay scandal ripped a hole in what some describe as a moribund offshore financial services industry. But both industries have recovered: four percent growth has been recorded in cruise calls and overnight arrivals over 2018 through August, and Atlantic Bank Limited, former parent of AIBL, has been spared its ravages and is expanding lending, tying into the Government’s long-term strategy. AIBL meanwhile is expected to sign off on a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Belize has signed a partial scope agreement with Taiwan and Mexico to sign off on receiving Belizean cattle by December. The Prime Minister repeated the measures taken by the banks including the Central Bank to assist farmers. Relaxation of certain regulatory strictures will allow the commercial banks and other lenders to offer restructured, extended repayment terms on current loans, and fresh financing to our farmers. And there will also be small livelihood grants, subsidized inputs and targeted duty exemptions to assist with upgraded irrigation and necessary equipment.
Another effect of the drought has been the draining of Belize’s rivers, affecting the hydro-electric plants and the supply of electricity, combined with an increase of energy prices and lowered input provided by Mexico’s CFE. Belize Electricity Limited is to sign by October a power purchase agreement for 30 megawatts of solar power energy produced locally, the first ten coming in a year. BEL, said Barrow, has connected close to 5,000 households countrywide in five years to the national grid, with Bullet Tree Falls and Seven Miles in Cayo to come. And the first electric vehicles in Belize – to be trialed by BEL in its fleet – are also coming soon.
Though he complained the vaunted medicinal properties of marijuana or rather THC did nothing for his troublesome back, P.M. Barrow welcomed the start of the new hemp industry, citing ideal growing conditions for the export of both raw hemp and the hemp-based medicinal products that so many foreign investors are lined up to manufacture in our country. “And in furtherance of this Administration’s gospel, we have ensured that the little man, the small farmer, is not left behind. Thus, licenses will be given to growers that wish to cultivate as little as one acre.”
Overall, Barrow concluded, “…our prospects are good. This blessed choice, this noble spot will always ultimately stand us in excellent stead. And together with the Almighty’s bounty that is the physical richness of our native land, there is the oft proven, now legendary, Belizean resilience and resolve. Altogether a fine conjuncture, a grand construct, a wonderful plinth of grit and character and nature’s benevolence. We therefore plough straight ahead regardless of the vicissitudes and vagaries that must attend every nation’s social and economic trajectory. So we march on, buoyed by our conviction that ultimately we are fortune’s child. And we search endlessly for new initiatives, for ways of making life better and vindicating our faith in our Belizean destiny.”
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