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Mar 30, 2006

Belizean businesses prepare for trade with Guatemala

Story PictureIn the corridors of power in Belmopan, Guatemala City, and Washington D.C. negotiations to end the territorial claim to Belize continues. But behind the scenes, the private sectors of both countries are also hard at work, trying to put political differences aside in the name of business and investment. A big plus is that the man who first signed the trade understanding with Belize, Jorge Briz, then President of the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce, is now that country’s foreign minister. Today, Belizean businessmen and women gathered in the city to talk shop, specifically how to parlay reality into peace and prosperity on both sides of the border.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
During special ceremonies at the Princess Hotel, this morning the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service officially signed a cooperation agreement … teaming up to promote and enhance trade between Belize and Guatemala.

Arturo Vasquez, President, BCCI
?We have to look at what is going out, what is coming in. That is what the whole partial scope agreement is all about, looking at what is imported and exported. Of course Guatemala will always have a benefit, they are bigger, and I believe we have to live with things like that. I think we need to use that to our best advantage and again, variety for me would be the best thing.?

B.C.C.I. President Arturo Vasquez has been supporting the trade alliance with Guatemala for the past four years. Vasquez believes the territorial dispute will be solved with the tune of cash registers … not national anthems.

Arturo Vasquez, President, B.C.C.I.
?The political side, as I said, we should leave that to the politicians. To be honest, I don?t know if that will ever be resolved, but if we wait for that I don?t think we will then be able to develop the business commercial linkages that we can really have, and that is really what we are trying to push. We can do that?if you leave it to me, I?d leave the territorial dispute for another ninety-nine years and you continue to develop the business part of things and people would perhaps forget about it after a while.?

Alyssa Noble, Projects Coordinator, B.C.C.I.
?We do have and suffer from a severe trade imbalance with Guatemala. We import millions of dollars worth of products from Guatemala every year, while we only export in the thousands.?

Using funds from the British government?s Conflict Resolution Fund, the B.C.C.I. has coordinated several bi-lateral projects between Belize and Guatemala. Project manager Alyssa Noble encourages small and large enterprises to get involved in the regional initiative.

Alyssa Noble
?The trade with Belize and Guatemala is happening, we can?t escape it. It?s like globalisation, it?s everywhere. We just have to see how we can turn it into an opportunity and try to become players and try to see how we can make Belize get up there and be with one of those larger countries.?

?We are really, really behind our productive and private sector. We have their best interest in mind and we are doing this because of them and well as for them. So if they are interested and they have any ideas, we?re always willing to listen and you shouldn?t hesitate to come in and approach us.?

Lourdes Smith, Executive Director, BELTRAIDE
?BELTRAIDE has developed an exporter?s manual that gives you all the information that is required by BAHA and the processes to export, so that is a good tool that can be utilized. It is available from BELTRAIDE and certain locations in the city as well. But that is the essence of it, familiarise yourself with the procedures so that then you don?t encounter stumbling blocks when you already at the border or ready to send your product out and you realize that you have not covered your bases.?

Criticisms to the trade agreement has been that Belize?s much smaller consumer base will be inundated by the foreign products. But BELTRAIDE?s executive director Lourdes Smith, says Belize does bring something to the table … the Caribbean.

Lourdes Smith
?Guatemalans who want to establish a business here to target the CARICOM market, because that is something we have to offer. What we are doing through the investment promotion agreement is trying to promote joint venture investments so that Belizeans also participate in companies that want to establish themselves here and vice versa. It?s usually easier to operate a business in a country when you have a partner from that country involved in the business.?

Manuel Torres Teller, Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize
?We are in a new phase in the political negotiations at the highest level, negotiations that are now bearing fruits. We are now walking on a perfect unbroken route which will permit us to solve our ancestral differendum and to get together our economic, cultural, political, and tourism sectors.?

According to Director of Foreign Trade, Nancy Namis, the partial scope agreement has been sent to the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) for approval and should be tabled in the House of Representatives by mid-June. Before implementation, the agreement must also be accepted by Guatemala’s Congress.

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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