Features — 27 June 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Imports up, exports down

Consumer prices edge up 1.6% as imports reach a record $800 mil for first 5 months of 2014

Belize has become heavily dependent on imports from the United States, China, Mexico and the European Union – the four territories from which Belize imported over $100 million worth of merchandise in May 2014 alone.

In fact, the country’s bill for the first 5 months of 2014 stands at a record $800 million – which Javan Chavarria, Statistician II of the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), told the media on Tuesday represents an increase of $54 million or 7.3% over the same period in 2013.

Data released today by the SIB revealed that the import bill for May was 19.5% higher than the same time last year, with Belize importing $31.7 million more, even as exports continued on the downturn.

More specifically, domestic exports fell from $72.2 million last May to only $50.2 million this May – a fall of $22 million. Citrus, sugar and bananas were Belize’s top earners in May.

The total fall-off in exports since the year began now totals $77 million, with export earnings registering at $254.7 million, according to the data released today.

The SIB explained that the major dive in export earnings resulted because no crude oil was shipped out in May. The SIB said that crude oil is now only shipped abroad every other month, because of low production levels.

Half of Belize’s exports are destined for the European Union, with a quarter being destined to the USA.

While the country benefits greatly from the export of its agricultural produce, it is suspected that foreign demand for red kidney beans grown in Belize has meant inflation, or higher prices on the local market. The price continues to remain higher than last year’s prices, a pound of beans going for $2.35 in May 2014, with prices being 22.5% higher than last May. Black bean prices were 33.5% higher than last May.

While the most notable price fall was for sweet peppers, which has gone down from $3.42 a pound to $2.79 a pound, the most substantial price shock was seen for cabbage, which skyrocketed by 56.7%. A pound of cabbage was $1.65, up from $1.05 this same time last year.

Jefte Ochaeta, Statistician II of SIB, said that he could not tell us whether the rise in cabbage prices had anything to do with crop damage in the Valley of Peace area due to aerial spraying of herbicide in March, allegedly by Green Tropics.

The price of potatoes has also soared by 34.8% over the same time last year. While the price of a pound of potatoes was tagged at $1.34 last May, this May, a shopper would have paid $1.80 for the pound.

Such price hikes have contributed to the 1.6% inflation reported for the first 5 months of 2014. Ochaeta reported that inflation also rose by 1.6% in May 2014.

“Higher transport prices were the single largest contributor to this increase, followed by housing, water, gas, food and insurance premiums,” the SIB reported.

Price changes were most pronounced in the western jurisdictions of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, at 2.8%, well above the national average. Ochaeta said that high rate was largely due to changes in the price of some furnishings and household equipment.

Meanwhile, Punta Gorda experienced minor price shocks with inflation recorded at a low 0.8% for that municipality.

“This does not mean that Punta Gorda has cheaper prices. It just means that prices didn’t change as much compared to last May,” Ochaeta explained.

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