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Apr 8, 2005

Trade talks continue between Belize and Guatemala

Story PictureBelize and Guatemala this week moved one step closer to a partial scope trade agreement. The process started last November and the two sides are hoping that by mid-2005 mechanisms will be in place. These measures should make it easier for certain goods and services to move freely between the two countries, promote a level playing field for investors, and facilitate land transportation. After five days of talks, Guatemala’s Vice Minister of the Economy, Enrique Lacs, and Belize’s Director General for Foreign Trade, Jose Alpuche, hosted a joint press conference to say that progress has been made and that both sides remain committed to seeing the agreement come to fruition.

Enrique Lacs, Vice Min. of the Economy, Guatemala
?I can assure you that I am sitting here today before you and I have been with you for three days discussing this agreement because it has the full support of our government and of the private sector of my country. I was saying to my colleague Jose Alpuche that I am so euphoric about this and everybody in my country is too, that I have to tell you that it is not as big as we have thought that we are going to have an agreement. A partial scope agreement is not a free trade agreement with Belize, so we have a lot of enthusiasm with this trade agreement. We are hopeful that this will be helpful for both countries. We know there are always sentiments of nationalism…negotiations or other areas, but the pragmatism that orients the Guatemalan businessmen makes them see that this is an agreement that is necessary to join two regions that have trade opportunities and business opportunities.?

Jose Alpuche, Director General, Foreign Trade, Bz.
?One of the catalysts, not the catalyst, but one of the catalysts in this current round is direct interest by the private sector. I should not hit at the private sector, but there is this perception that they start something here in Belize and then they whither away. I can assure you that up to earlier this afternoon we still had members of the private sector with us, being in the side room, being in the process, keeping in close contact to ensure that we do move forward in a positive manner.?

Patrick Jones
?Under the agreement it?s left for both parties, both countries to seize opportunities that would be to their mutual benefits without taking advantage of the other. What happens when disputes arise? In the case of CARICOM we have the C.C.J. that we can run to. Who can we run to under this agreement, to arbitrate in disputes??

Jose Alpuche
?There are several levels of dispute settlement envisage in the agreement. As it relates to the overall agreement, it?s a state to state agreement and there is a process that we are working on in terms of the settlement of disputes. We still have not finally agreed on the full text of what will constitute the dispute settlement mechanism, but these are established practices quite frankly; it?s not any new ground that we are crossing.?

Enrique Lacs
?Trade doesn?t recognize borders, and what we have today is trade that is done–as my colleague Jose Alpuche said–through the borders or through imaginary lines where the one who is trading, the only thing he does is put his merchandize on a specific market. What we are going to do is to give certainty to that which is already happening without that recognition to which you make reference. Likewise with investments; investments don?t recognise frontier or borders, the investor looks for a market where there is an opportunity. And with this agreement we are going to give those investors, both from Belize as well as from Guatemala, the opportunity to get closer to that market and to grow in those markets and to generate the jobs for these people who are close to those markets and who will benefit from those markets.?

The two countries will get together again for the third round of negotiations at the end of May in Guatemala City. Lacs says that the speed with which the talks are proceeding, the final agreement should be ready for signing by July 2005.

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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