With the recent International Monetary Funds (IMF) report documented by the IMF staff on their two week visit to Belize, the preliminary reports were startling. The report addressed the slowing of the economy and the increase of the country’s fiscal and external vulnerabilities. While the reports seemed alarming, Minister of State in Investment, Trade and Commerce, Tracey Taegar Panton said while there is cause for concern, there is no need to be alarmed.
“Well yes there are concerns and I don’t know that the IMF at least in my history has ever given a good report on Belize or any of the other countries that they have done their assessment on. There are serious issues that we have to face; certainly looking at the debt servicing in terms of our Super bond payments, we are now moving from a situation where we are only going to be paying interest payments to making principal payments. That bond issue has not gone away for us; the whole issue of obviously the corresponding banks situation, which is still a delicate situation in this country and really it’s very important for us to solve as part of a regional dialogue because it’s not only Belize but certainly other members of the region as well facing those challenges. For us trying to broker the relationships to bring more foreign direct investment in Belize is critical so that we can have the hard currency to stimulate more business and also to be able to generate the kind of resources that we need to deal with some of the commitments and some of the relationships in terms of moving Belize forward. We have a part to play certainly there are other financial institutions in this country that have a part to play but I think if we all do our part we will be able to turn it around, hopefully turn it around quickly and imbue the kind of confidence we need to imbue in our partners such as the IMF.”
The report mentioned exports falling by nine percent as well as the rate of imports which remains on the rise. Panton addressed the issues of the fall in export.
“I think that it’s well on its way to recovery. There has been a decline in the exports and that is primarily due to the agricultural sector, you know we had a disease that affected our shrimp farms, we had a challenge with the banana farms, with the papaya as well. I think we are doing everything as best as we can in attracting the right investors and partners to Belize to ensure that we can keep these. Agriculture is cyclical almost and that we will be able to rebound particularly in the agricultural sector; I know the shrimp sector is doing all it can to rebound, it takes some time, it’s an eighteen month process but I think everything that can be done is being done and certainly there is a lot of government support not only from ourselves but from the Ministry of Agriculture, from BAHA and all the relevant agencies to try and ensure that we rebound as quickly as possible.”
Advice from the IMF included structural reforms which can improve potential growth and improve competitiveness, which is needed to reduce the external vulnerabilities.