BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 26, 2020– Talks began between Belize and Guatemala from way back in 2004 for a Partial Scope trade agreement, which was eventually signed in 2006; and while Belize made sure to get approval from CARICOM to ensure we lived up to our trade obligations under the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME), Guatemala has quietly been advancing its own interests, negotiating its own “partial scope” agreements with other CARICOM countries. Where sugar exports are concerned, that has worked to Belize’s detriment.
Despite complaints from the Belize government that the sale of raw sugar by Guatemala to our sister CARICOM countries without paying the mandated tariffs is a violation of CSME, and has significantly impacted Belize’s potential sales of our sugar to those countries, the trade has continued. As a consequence, reports are that Belize is now taking our CARICOM sister nations, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Kitts & Nevis, to the CCJ. So much for CARICOM solidarity.
While the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) drew the nation’s attention early in 2015 to Guatemala’s military incursions into Belizean territory in the Sarstoon River area, and attracted international attention with a big citizens’ Sarstoon expedition on August 16 of that year, Belizeans were unaware of the simultaneous trade offensive being launched into CARICOM by our Guatemalan neighbor.
According to the T&T Guardian of April 2, 2015, after a couple years of discussions, Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago signed the final document on a Partial Scope trade agreement between them in February of that same year, with the objective of increasing trade and business opportunities between the two countries.
The report noted that “the agreement was subsequently certified by CARICOM,” which would “allow for a number of products and services from T&T to enter the Guatemalan market at either reduced or zero tariffs.” It listed the goods and services that Guatemala could export to Trinidad & Tobago with reciprocated benefits, but sugar was not on the list.
In a 7News interview this past Friday night, October 23, however, Belize’s Agriculture Minister, Hon. Godwin Hulse, revealed that Belize has lost significant sales of our brown sugar because two CARICOM nations, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Kitts & Nevis, have been purchasing this sugar outside of the CARICOM market, from Guatemala and Honduras, without paying the required tariffs under the CSME.
According to the CSME, explained Hulse, if one of the CARICOM territories has a particular good that another territory wants, it is normally required that the good be imported from that CARICOM territory; but if it chooses to get it “extra regional,” meaning from outside of the community, then it is required to pay what is called a CET (Common External Tariff).
In Belize’s case, Belize produced enough brown sugar to easily supply the region’s needs, but the two named CARICOM countries, Hulse said, chose to purchase from outside the region without paying “the 40% CET”.
As a consequence, Belize has suffered “a loss of almost two million dollars,” said the minister. He continued, “We have had many requests at COTED (CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development) and …they continue to do it;” and so our only recourse was “to go to the Caribbean Court of Justice.”
In the October 25 edition of loopnewscaribbean.com, St. Kitts-Nevis Minister of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Wendy Phipps confirmed at a recent sitting of their National Assembly that “The government of Belize is suing St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago for trade-related policy breaches. In the claim filed by Belize, both countries are accused of importing sugar from Guatemala and Honduras without applying the Common External Tariff.”
In various forums, Belizean politicians have often bragged about the great language, culture and location potential Belize enjoys which could give us an advantage in regional trade as the so-called “bridge” between Central America and the Caribbean.
After the fact, almost a month later, we are finding out that we are taking two sister Caribbean nations to the CCJ. And, even while we await the verdict on the Guatemalan claim from the ICJ, the reality is that our nemesis to the west has been artfully maneuvering herself to use us as “their” bridge to the Caribbean.
Hopefully, keeping abreast of developments in this case will help to open our eyes to the real economic (cash) implications and potential of the various “trade agreements” that our leaders sign in our name.