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Jun 27, 2003

Belize hosts C.A. Chambers of Commerce

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A settlement of the Guatemalan claim may still be elusive, but that hasn’t stopped Belize’s business community from exploring opportunities across the border. Patrick Jones reports on the latest efforts at regional integration.

Arturo Vasquez, Vice President, B.C.C.I.

“What the Chamber plans to do with this really, is because we are now affiliated and associated with all these Central American Chambers, we have first hand and personal contacts with all these people so wherever there are opportunities in Central America for business negotiations, sharing of data, that we see as a great opportunity for our membership here.”

Patrick Jones, Reporting

The one-day meeting of presidents and executive directors of Chambers of Commerce of Central America was more than just another talk shop; at least from the Belize point of view. Vice President of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arturo Vasquez, says it’s an opportunity to show the rest of the region that when it comes to commerce Belize can play on the same field as the big boys.

Arturo Vasquez

“What we are trying to do here as well is try to shift from the North American and CARICOM emphasis that we have and perhaps start dealing with our neighbouring countries, which is much closer, easier to ship, everything is by road, we don’t have to be worrying about air and sea transports and that sort of thing. So I think that’s an excellent opportunity for our membership here and also vice versa for the Central American countries.”

Eduardo Oñate, President, FECAMCO

“Belize is of great importance to us in Central America. We believe it will contribute to the growth of commerce in the region. Each country is inter-dependent of each other. We believe that Belize plays an important role because it is part of Central America and CARICOM and it’s a gateway for us to enter CARICOM.”

A key outcome of the one-day session was a resolution in support of allowing one country to send its products to another for value adding. B.C.C.I. President, Mark Lizarraga, says that for Belize, this is an ideal situation.

Mark Lizarraga, President, Chamber of Commerce

“This is extremely important for Belize, because what the maquila concept is, is that countries like Belize that have the capacity to produce raw materials, but do not have capacity to add value to them, we can take Belizean raw material to Guatemala or El Salvador or whatever country in Central America that has the capacity and has the infrastructure investments in factories whatever, we can take Belizean raw materials to these countries, add value to them maintaining, Belizean origin, and that gives us tremendous access to CARICOM. That is the end game.”

That game is receiving strong backing from the British Government, which is putting up funding in the vicinity of half a million dollars.

The three-year agreement, signed this afternoon, paves the way for business people in Belize and Guatemala to explore cross-border trade.

Kevin Herrera, General Manager, B.C.C.I.

“Where if we want to do a market study in Guatemala to look at certain products, to look at certain areas that Belizeans can export to Guatemala, then we have a review and assessment of that market. If Guatemalans have an interest in a particular area of our market, they may ask for a study or for a review to be done, to give all the information that would be necessary, in order that those businessmen over there or here may have the information necessary to carry out those business.”

During the formal session of the presidents’ meeting, each country presented reports in which they outlined prospects for investments. Presentations were done by BELTRAIDE and the Belize Tourism Board.

Kevin Herrera

“We’re hoping that people will start looking at their products or services that they want to export or import and come to us and give us an idea of what they want to do and we arrange it. We’ll also be able to carry out a number of trade missions between the two countries. We could also go to trade shows and that type of thing, so it will be a pretty large project. But the main thing is to improve the business to business relations between the two countries.”

Belize’s entrance to FECAMCO late last year was sponsored by Guatemala, a founding member of the regional organization.

This afternoon the gathering was addressed by Prime Minister Said Musa.

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