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Aug 31, 2005

First ever trade agreement signed with Guatemala

Story PictureIt may never find its way into the history books, but a major milestone was reached today when Belizean and Guatemalan negotiators put their initials on a first ever trade pact between the two nations. The partial scope agreement will allow duty free and reduced duty access for a number of goods, as well as better protection and promotion of cross border investment. Signing for Belize was Director General of Foreign Trade, Jose Alpuche.

Jose Alpuche, Director General of Foreign Trade
“We’ve reached an agreement that encompasses trade for a small basket of products from Guatemala to Belize and from Belize to Guatemala. But then there’s also an investment chapter and a land transportation chapter to the agreement that will really bolster trade between Belize and Guatemala. As you know, at the moment there’s a significant deficit in favour of Guatemala. We believe that this agreement will help to address that process.”

Stewart Krohn
“Do I understand this to mean that there will be certain goods and services that will now be duty free both ways?”

Jose Alpuche
“That’s right, a small basket on both sides.”

Stewart Krohn
“What kind of things will Belizeans now be able to export duty free to Guatemala and vice versa?”

Jose Alpuche
“We have a separate list for both countries. That was done specifically to ensure that none of the vulnerable sectors either for Belize or Guatemala would be affected. So we have a basket of principally agriculture goods going from Belize to Guatemala?agriculture and some foodstuff going from Belize to Guatemala. And from Guatemala to Belize, we have a list that consists principally of industrial products, inputs for production here, and some consumer goods.”

Stewart Krohn
“For example Belizean citrus products, something we are strong in, will those now go into Guatemala duty free?”

Jose Alpuche
“That is right. We’ve managed to gain access for most of our citrus products. And as you know, citrus has been one of the main protagonist of this agreement in the sense that there is a joint partnership in the making between the Citrus Products of Belize Limited here and the company in Guatemala and this agreement will allow them to do joint investments here in Belize and in Central America of course, to produce citrus juices here, move it from a commodity trade to finished products into Guatemala and into the rest of the Central America.”

Signing for Guatemala was Vice Minister of Trade, Enrique Lacs, who said that his government and people are ready to move forward for both countries’ benefit.

Enrique Lacs, Guatemalan Vice Minister of Trade
“I think that this agreement is approved, that the ice is already broken between Belize and Guatemala in this trade relationship that we are trying to build. We have an agreement that is helping us to get together in this globalised world and we need to be very productive to compete regionally and in the world. And so we have an agreement that is going to let us joint venture our businessmen, our enterprises, to compete in this world. We think that our relationship, especially based on this agreement, is going to help us to be more close together facing the world.”

Stewart Krohn
“Vice Minister, anytime you’re dealing between Belize and Guatemala, because of the huge difference in size and wealth, Belizeans are always going to fear that whatever the terms of the agreement are, that at some point Belize will be overwhelmed by the sheer size deficit with Guatemala. Do you have any reassurances that you can give both Belizean businesspeople and the Belizean public to say, this isn’t so?”

Enrique Lacs
“Yeah. I think that this agreement has recognised from the very beginning of the text the economical difference between Belize and Guatemala. We give more concessions to Belize than what Belize gives to us and we agree on that at the very first day of our negotiations. We understand that Belize is opening up to this kind of new trade relationships and we are ready to give the time they need to develop their oil industry, to develop their trade, and to develop the right atmosphere and requirements for investment. This agreement is only the first step in a long-term relationship we are trying to settle down with between Belize and Guatemala. I think the asymmetry is already recognised in the agreement.”

Following today’s signing, the agreement will be thoroughly vetted by legal experts and then sent for approval by Cabinet and ratification by the Senate. In Guatemala the pact must be approved by a vote of Congress. In the case of specified Belizean goods going into Guatemala, all duties will be removed. For selected Guatemalan products coming into Belize, some will receive duty free status, but most will enjoy only partially reduced duties and many of those reductions will be phased over time. One of the major attractions of the trade agreement is that it will encourage Guatemalan manufacturers to invest in Belize in order to enter the CARICOM market. Similarly, CARICOM investors can set up here to access customers in Guatemala.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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