Last week we told you of the case where livestock producers were unable to make the sale on their cattle via the Bullet Tree informal passage. Initially, the information was that the village chairman was blocking the export into Guatemala. We later learnt, however that it was the Guatemalan Government that had decided to stop turning a blind eye to the informal arrangement. We have been referring to this exercise as an informal export but the Prime Minister corrected the media and stated that it is not informal but rather it is outright illegal.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Why do you keep calling it informal? It wasn’t informal it was illegal. It was illegal and as I’ve tried to explain to the Leader of the Opposition it’s illegal with this possible result, now that the Guatemalans have said ‘No, don’t do it we will in fact get after you.’ I suppose diplomatically and we’ll certainly get after anybody in Guatemala who seeks to continue that trade. A part from the fear of a diplomatic incident there is also it strikes me the element of money laundering that would be involved. We would be enabling money laundering because money laundering is what you obtain as proceeds from a crime and what you then put in your bank account and money laundering you know is not confined to a particular territorial jurisdiction that’s international so if we sought to either accompany or clear the livestock owners, the cattle owners, to take the cattle to the border so that the Guatemalans can come and get that cattle we would be enabling money laundering and we would ourselves, those who got involved, be possibly guilty of money laundering but you don’t even have to go that far. The Guatemalans have said ‘Sir, we will not continue to turn a blind eye. This trade must not happen.’ they’ve also said ‘Let us formalize it. Let us make it legal.’ well I don’t know how long that will take. Meantime the CARICOM people have said they want to buy cattle I believe – is it the Grenadians or the Vincentians have placed informally an order for like a thousand heads Minister Hulse tells me there was a time in the long ago when we had sent cattle to Martinique one of the French speaking islands. So that seems to be pretty firm it’s just a matter of working out the logistics, now a thousand heads in terms of what these people are accustomed to export normally via the illegal route maybe is seen as not very much but it’s a start. Mexico, with whom we’ve been trying to work for ages according to the Minister that’s now all there except they wanting us to use just one particular corral at Blue Creek and the Minister wanted for as it were each cattle ranch to be certified and sanitized for pickups to be done from individual cattle ranches. We’ve agreed that we can’t wait on that. I was told that as well that most of the livestock is at Shipyard and there may be some little difficulty between Shipyard and Blue Creek I don’t know if that is true but if it is that surely can be sorted out. Point is that there are other options nothing will be quite as sweet to the farmers as the illegal trade because remember that nobody was paying any government official on either side of the border a dime so for all the reason’s I’ve outlined it cannot continue but we clearly have a duty to try to find alternatives and that is what the Ministry of Agriculture is making every effort to do.”
Foreign Affairs Minister, Wilfred Sedi Elrington, spoke on the matter reference the diplomatic relations with Guatemala. According to Elrington, Belize’s representatives are working on strengthening the partial scope agreement with Guatemala that will enable the export of cattle into Guatemala.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “The Guatemalans have made it clear to us “We are not going to countenance any irregular trafficking in cattle, we’re not going to countenance it at all. You have to do it in the legitimate way.” We already have a partial scope agreement with them and we had already made some export of cattle with them it is just that we had not gone ahead and made that arrangement more robust so I’m sure that Minister Hulse and his counterpart and Minister Tracey and them who deal with trade are working overtime to try to see how quickly we can put in place the protocols to facilitate and enable the transport across the border. Nothing would make us happier than being able to see those cattle go and I think there are about 30,000 that we have to get rid of. As from this year I think we should be very very aggressive in arranging to have those things sold in the Caribbean as well because not only Mexico and Guatemala that want them or need them the Caribbean also needs them. Small islands can’t raise cattle and the like you see ? So we have a market out there too so it will be call for a lot of work on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and the industry to make sure that we do all in our power to expedite the opening of the markets for these perishable products.”
It is estimated that Belize has about thirty thousand heads of cattle available for export.