We now shift gears to agriculture: more than twenty-two thousand heads of cattle were exported by Belizean farmers to Guatemala and Mexico last year. The Belize Livestock Association says that the cattle exported through informal trade is estimated to be half of that number. While the Ministry of Agriculture has established formal trade agreements with both border countries, farmers are still using unofficial routes. Acting Managing Director of the Belize Agriculture and Health Authority, Francisco Gutierrez says the informal trade is a necessity at this moment.
Francisco Gutierrez, Acting Managing Director, BAHA: “Informal trade with Guatemala is a necessity at the moment. It’s not the ideal situation to tell you the truth, it’s preferably to capitalize on existing trade agreements to get our products out of the country. The current situation is a necessity because we have quite a bit of animals to export and going through normal routes is seen by farmers and producers to be a bit tedious and even expensive. However farmers themselves and the authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture recognize that establishing formal markets is the best way to go as complicated as that may be but we have clearance from Mexico for animals at least from the Orange Walk district and we have clearance for cattle from Belize to Guatemala for the whole country. It’s a little bit easier with Guatemala. Farmers choose to go through the unofficial routes into Guatemala because it’s less problematic that’s how they view it but we do and we continue trying to formalize these markets for the different spin off commodities of the cattle industry and of course other products as well to the formal markets.”
Gutierrez went on to elaborate on BAHA’s role in ensuring some level of safety security is adhered to by farmers.
Francisco Gutierrez, Acting Managing Director, BAHA: “Any trade process of agreement starts with negotiations. So we have negotiated with Guatemala and Mexico in the past, we have a partial scope agreement with Guatemala but even beyond partial scope agreements as long as a country wants a commodity and they are willing to accept you can trade. There might be tariffs involved etc so this process happened a long time ago and it’s still on going and there are still discussions on trade but a condition for that is that you really need to maintain a favorable sanitary status which means an entity like BAHA has to conduct surveillance activities, has to regulate the importation of animals into the country from all sources to ensure that whatever comes into the country is clean, is not infected because you want to maintain the status that is positive, beneficial so we do not have diseases of major concern for our trading partners. So it’s combination of measures that an entity has to do the relevant ministries etc to maintain that status so that we can continue capitalizing on these markets.”
Gutierrez added that BAHA is currently working with local farmers to implement proper protocol during cattle exportation.