Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2023. 11:30 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Following news of the closure or change of ownership of so-called “legacy businesses” – agencies owned and operated by Belizeans – Albert area representative Tracy Taegar Panton brought the matter to the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday following the adjournment.
Citing the change of ownership of Smiling Meats, the closure of Augusto Quan and Company, and the planned closure of Bottom Dalla Supermarket – even the “meat pie man” in San Ignacio is apparently going out of business, she said – one reason underlines their difficulties: “The truth of the matter is that some of the policies that have been put in place by this administration have been far more harmful than helpful,” despite the reported boom in the economy in the last 2 ½ years coming out of the COVID-induced recession.
Despite Prime Minister John Briceño’s insistence that improving conditions for doing business in Belize and supporting local business operators is a high priority, Taegar-Panton said, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry which represents many of the importers and retailers, says it is not being thoroughly consulted in order to achieve the best outcome. It is time, she added, that business community persons have a sit-down with the Government to discuss the best way to tackle inflation and reduce prices.
The Prime Minister made note in his reply that businesses are in some cases reacting to the moving of customers out of downtown municipalities to the “suburbs” outside them. For instance, Santiago Castillo Limited is closing Bottom Dalla to focus more on its wholesale business as well as Save-U Supermarket near the Belcan Roundabout, as confirmed in a recent meeting between Castillo and the Prime Minister; and Smiling Meats has only changed ownership, not closed down entirely. The People’s Store in Orange Walk Town, another Castillo-owned store, is not safe from closure either as larger supermarkets open away from downtown, the P.M. noted.
The fact remains that Belize is “importing inflation” and costs have gone up legitimately for some products, the P.M. said. The Government will still pursue the markup cap on 43 basic goods, some at 15 percent and others at 20 percent. The discussion continues on curbing inflation and according to the Statistical Institute of Belize, prices remain high for food, mostly imported, but in other categories, inflation is going down.
But it is also true that hundreds of new businesses have opened and hundreds of millions invested, the P.M. added, though warned: “But there are going to be some losers. The important thing for us is to ensure that we have a lot more winners than losers.” It is still a conscious decision to buy and support local businesses despite the market conditions changing.
Prime Minister Briceño also warned that prices on basic commodities such as rice and sugar may inevitably go up if other major producers around the world stop exporting and demand from Belize goes up, as evinced by India and rice and sugar sales to Guatemala and Mexico.
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