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Diani Chan and Mexican ornamental plants – Privilege, Mischief or Facilitating trade?

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Posted: Friday, May 27, 2022. 12:57 pm CST.

By Benjamin Flowers: The last time San Roman florist Diani Chan made the news, Prime Minister John Briceno had called on her behalf to have Forestry Department staff release plants that they claimed had to be inspected the following day as some of the plants that were imported were imported ‘illegally’ against Forestry protocols. This week, she is in the news again as a Mexican cargo truck drove up to her door to deliver a large number of plants, a process that the Belize Agricultural and Health Authority (BAHA), says was made easier through better communication, clarification of respective responsibilities between Forestry and BAHA and clear protocols established and communicated to Diani Chan and other importers of plants.

Chairman of BAHA, Hugh O’ Brien, explained that following a coordination meeting between Forestry and BAHA, the permit application submitted by Chan was reviewed, and the plants that Forestry has jurisdiction over, as well as the plants that required a Certificate of Origin under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were determined. Since the Mexicans could not furnish Chan with the CITES permits, two (2) groups of orchids, namely the Vanda and the Phalaenopsis, were not approved on the permit, neither were the Bromeliads. In addition all the ferns that were on the permit application were rejected as Forestry personnel considered them invasive. This was then communicated to Chan, and the list of 9 or so plants that required a Forestry permit was approved by the Forestry Department.

In an interview with Breaking Belize News (BBN), O’Brien said, “the protocols for permit application and inspection were streamlined and agreed upon between BAHA and Forestry.” This he said was to facilitate a smoother process for permit applicants and ensure that Chan knew exactly what the procedure/protocols were, and that she respect these protocols, or have her shipment rejected by both BAHA and Forestry.

“Plant permit applications are to be submitted to BAHA, then BAHA will forward such applications to Forestry for their review as to which plants require Forestry permits or CITES Certificate of Origin.” 

In order to not create unnecessary bureaucracy, O’Brien said that it was agreed for a final decision regarding the permit application should take no more than seven (7) days. In addition, it was agreed that the Forestry Department is free to inspect any shipment of plants; however, in the case that Forestry is unable to inspect, that BAHA would oversee the documentation and inspection process on their behalf.

To facilitate the inspection process, Chan was told that the truck had to arrive at the border in the morning, and that all plants of interest to Forestry had to be placed at the back of the truck.

Managing Director for BAHA, Zoe Zetina, confirmed that the plants imported by Diani Chan were inspected at the border upon entry into the country by BAHA personnel. She assured that there were no plants listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in the latest shipment, and that all the paperwork went through the necessary processes.

Additionally, Zetina explained that the plants were transported to Belize in sterile media, as soil is not permitted to be brought into Belize. Zetina explained that plants coming into the country from Mexico is not a new phenomenon, as several nurseries have been granted permits to import plants and that these importers have been doing so for some time now.

BAHA maintains that the first encounter with Forestry Department and Chan’s business  “Botanical Gardens By Roselyn” was due to some confusion in the roles each department play in the importation of plants and the issuance of permits, and notes that the roles have been clearly defined and the process streamlined.

O’Brien also confirmed that it is normal for any truck transporting plants to enter Belize to deliver the plants to their destination, and as such reporting this as a privilege to Chan, or any other plant importer, is considered “mischief making”.

Wile Belize has signed on to, and ratified, the CITES Convention, Belize is yet to approve requisite legislation to give legal teeth to the provisions that we have committed to under CITES.

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