In Prime Minister Harper’s 20-minute address, he highlighted the assets that Belize boasts ranging from the diverse cultures, its strategic geographic location as well as the natural resources the country offers. According to Harper these are advantages not found in many emerging economies. Amid the compliments, however, PM Harper did give some advice to the government when it comes to higher end opportunities.
Rt.Hon.Stephen Harper, Former Prime Minister of Canada: “There are very very few emerging economies that have that many natural advantages. And those have been reflected in an economy that while it has been as we all know very hard hit on the tourist side by COVID-19 seems to be according to the statistics I have read, bouncing back very very strongly and rapidly. I also note that growth here in recent years has been particularly helped by the emergence of Belize as a major resort and retirement destination. In fact with spectacular growth numbers and tourism figures – including from Canada – numbers which I’m sure you’re all familiar with. But you have in my opinion been pursuing a relatively differentiated strategy in this regard and that is to say assuming large scale tourist development in favor of more boutique higher end opportunities. Now whether that is by design or evolution I think that’s a wise strategy. For one thing such development will help sustain the natural environment that drives people to come here in the first place.”
The 69-year-old Canadian former politician and businessman, the right Honorable Stephen Harper went further to speak on the need for greater investments in education which could lead to an improved tourism sector.
Rt.Hon.Stephen Harper, Former Prime Minister of Canada: “It is impressive by the way and I have to say this, it is impressive to see how seriously the plans for economic development in Belize take environmentalism and sustainability into account and it’s impressive to see the extensive environmental protections that already exist here both for lands and for waters. Now this focus on more high end boutique tourism also offers greater opportunity for something else and that is permanent relocation and economic development. As we all know the tourist industry is a great provider of jobs, lots of jobs, but they are often large quantities of low paying jobs. There are other opportunities in more boutique sectors and the real opportunity for Belize, one frankly that I see reflected in a lot of current policy is getting some portion of that wealthy tourist segment to relocate here. In some cases to start businesses but in others to at least use a greater volume of higher end professional services like accountants, investment managers, lawyers, medical professionals, a lot of growth in those areas could significantly add to the growth you see here in business processing operations. But to fully seize that kind of an opportunity I suggest a deliberate and strategic focus on your education sector. Attracting foreign expertise is important but don’t lose sight of Belize’s successful model of integration and economic participation. Ensure that your own citizens have the opportunity to develop the skills that align with your economy starting with excellence and expertise in professional services around hospitality and tourism. Second, continue to aggressively embrace technology and to facilitate connectivity. I understand that WIFI and cellular coverage have advanced tremendously in recent years and that sectors here such a banking have more fully embraced FinTech solutions for customers. Look for opportunities to enable technology across the board including in the public sector with the smooth citizen interaction with government. Strive to be digital first in every way, be the most connected digitally forward country in the region.”
As for the future of the country, PM Harper encouraged the government to have greater ambitions coupled with a realistic plan to achieve those objectives.
Rt.Hon.Stephen Harper, Former Prime Minister of Canada: “Now I know some here have asked the question because I’ve been asked it, whether Belize could some day be a Singapore or maybe a Dubai. I encourage you to be ambitious. To be ambitious and set aggressive goals and to make sure they are grounded in your country’s specific strengths and by the way this is key that is often forgotten have a tangible granular achievable plan to get there. To be a global trade and investment hub, to be frank, does I think require significant scale. Much much bigger than Belize is today and frankly not a scale that I think your lifestyle for environmental reason that you would really want. But Belize could certainly use its geographic and cultural position to be much more of a regional trading, investment and distribution hub. Geopolitics which once made this place very isolated in this region now makes it that kind of a potential hub. But the legacy of that isolation is your relatively underdeveloped infrastructure. I’d be making major infrastructure development a national priority but I would suggest that this not be done simply through large scale government investment, that would create very high risks for increase indebtedness. Instead the key will be to draw in major investors through public/private partnerships. But to do this properly is not small thing. Your leaders need to arm themselves with real expertise in creating an negotiating such arrangements. You need world class advisors that you can trust meaning that among others things you must make sure they are not sitting on both sides of the table.”