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BBN Year in Review 2020 – Part II: Politics and Government
January 3, 2021
BBN Year in Review 2020 – Part IV: Crime and Trials
January 3, 2021

BBN Year in Review 2020 – Part III: Business and Economy

Posted: Sunday, January 3, 2021. 6:16 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: COVID-19’s biggest impact on Belize may not have been in terms of health or politics, but economically. The suspension of cruise ship and airplane visits sent home thousands without jobs in March and April, and with agriculture exports such as sugar, citrus and bananas taking a pounding due to drought, a recession which started the year before would extend for the entire year.

In May, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that public servants would be asked to give up increments for a year among other measures, but after some disagreement this was changed to a deferral pending review. Many other companies either let go or renegotiated salaries with employees, though the Port of Belize Limited underwent major upheaval trying to do so with the stevedores and office workers, leading to a near-riot.

Later, the Government successfully negotiated a deferral of interest payments on the “Superbond,” though Barrow suggested that wider debt relief and another Superbond negotiation would be on the table.

The hole in the Government’s budget was as much as $300 million. The International Airport, after a failed attempt in August, was re-opened in October and does not appear to have significantly contributed to COVID-19 cases in Belize.

Unemployment has risen above 10 percent for the year, and the Government and Opposition negotiated an Unemployment Relief Program for newly unemployed and long-term unemployed; a Food Assistance Program and expansions of the Food Pantry and BOOST programs with international funding institutions. But construction projects in the North, West and South continued to provide jobs and others went into business for themselves, making masks and hand sanitizer among other things.

In banking, Scotiabank began the process of closing its operations, making a successful, Central Bank-approved sale to British Caribbean Bank Holdings (BCB Holdings), owners of the Belize Bank Limited. The resulting entity will become the largest bank in Belize.

The sugar industry began and ended the year in some turmoil, with a late crop beginning in January after significant drought, and internal quarrels delaying the start of the current crop to three days before the end of the year.

In all, Belize’s major exports continued to decline, though are expected to bounce back, and may be joined by another, livestock export, as after the Barrow Government halted and then began legal export of cattle in mid-year, the Briceno administration re-opened the “backdoor trade” with conditions in order to get much-needed revenue.

 

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