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The BCCI says GOB’s Trade Licensing Bill Needs to be Fined Tuned

 The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCC) also weighed in on GOB’s venture to reform the country’s Trade Licensing Act. The BCCI has been a part of the discussions and consultations surrounding the change of the current regime. President of the BCCI, Marcelo Blake says that the chamber has been in dialogue with its members as far back as 2009. According to him the chamber agrees with GOB’s push to stabilize trade licensing fees, but there are some aspects of the bill that don’t sit well with them. He says that the BCCI was not able to fully analyze the bill before it was taken to the house and is seeking an audience with GOB to discuss possible changes. 

Marcelo Blake, President, BCCI: The key goals have always been and there are five that we can recall is the revenue neutrality, the transparency, predictability, the administrative ease and accountability. And for us we remain committed to the process to ensure that we can move towards a fee rather than what it is currently which is a tax by another name that actually is levied on businesses as a trade license and so for us while in the short and medium term we remain sympathetic to the municipalities and the need for the funding that go into those municipalities in order for them to offer the necessary goods and services we are also of the opinion that we must move towards a flat fee rather than the way the calculations are being done currently. And so while the conversations have been ongoing and yes the Chamber has been consulted part of our challenge with the move to take it to the House so early is the fact that the Chamber did not necessarily have an adequate time to be able to go through the actual written bill so conceptually we discussed various elements of the bill in order for us to get to the point where we are and we must commend the ministry for the steps taken to move us in this direction and while there is now some element of predictability in the bill where there is now a three year review it does not remove the request from our end to be able to digest the bill in its written format in as much as detail as possible and for us to then go to our members and be able to consult with the document in hand. And so for us we call on the government to be able to come to the table and continue working out those small areas that still remain unclear and in doing so we then be able to go to our members and have the buy in of a wider group before this bill is actually passed. 

The Chamber’s Policy Analyst, Dyon Elliot, says that the current regime is not beneficial to most business owners. He says that the new changes will align with the international community’s best practices as it relates to trade licensing fees and rates.

Dyon Elliott, Chief Policy Analyst, BCCI: “The government went and worked on several different iterations of this thing the most recent one before us which is not being discussed in the public sphere right now is how the annual rental value is being calculated under the bill that has gone before the House. The bill before the House proposes a new methodology to calculate annual rental value. It takes your business classification there different zones Belize City has three zones; zone 1, 2 and 3 in each business classification whether it’s an accommodation, professional service, auto dealer XYZ they have a different rate per square foot for those businesses according to their business classification, based on the zone that they’re in and that is used to now calculate based on your square footage and you will have to get into a conversation of a think known as a productive footprint that looks at that is how now you are going to be accessed for your annual rental value. The municipalities are now given the option to choose a rate. Before as I said before the law had it fixed that you were supposed to be charging 25% of your annual rental value now the municipalities, the nine municipalities that currently have a trade license are given the option to choose what rate as long as it’s 25% or below so for example I think Belize City has decided that they will choose 15%. That is the proposed regime now. We do not necessarily like it, it’s not the best regime as president Blake has said our call has been a flat fee for years that’s the international best practice for a flat fee. You don’t run around the place charging $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 for a license in international best practice.”  “The government went and worked on several different iterations of this thing the most recent one before us which is not being discussed in the public sphere right now is how the annual rental value is being calculated under the bill that has gone before the House. The bill before the House proposes a new methodology to calculate annual rental value. It takes your business classification there different zones Belize City has three zones; zone 1, 2 and 3 in each business classification whether it’s an accommodation, professional service, auto dealer XYZ they have a different rate per square foot for those businesses according to their business classification, based on the zone that they’re in and that is used to now calculate based on your square footage and you will have to get into a conversation of a think known as a productive footprint that looks at that is how now you are going to be accessed for your annual rental value. The municipalities are now given the option to choose a rate. Before as I said before the law had it fixed that you were supposed to be charging 25% of your annual rental value now the municipalities, the nine municipalities that currently have a trade license are given the option to choose what rate as long as it’s 25% or below so for example I think Belize City has decided that they will choose 15%. That is the proposed regime now. We do not necessarily like it, it’s not the best regime as president Blake has said our call has been a flat fee for years that’s the international best practice for a flat fee. You don’t run around the place charging $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 for a license in international best practice.” 

President Blake also touched on a controversial aspect of the bill which now seeks to have persons classified as E-Business Operators, persons who use the internet to buy, sell or trade any good, pay a maximum fee of $600 per year. Blake says that this part of the bill will need to be fined tuned to ensure startup businesses that operate online aren’t negatively impacted. 

Marcelo Blake, President, BCCI: “There are some of the larger firms that actually fit into E business but the question is how do we address that for those who don’t have a brick and mortar system in place and is adding on for those who are on the start upside obviously for startup micro businesses it’s going to be an added cost which if you are going to make those businesses survive it’s difficult to see how a small micro business starting up for the first time is able to survive when you have this fee that basically becomes due even before you start making a profit. So we would have to look at it a little more deeper and look at that definition that is captured in there to see what the impact would be on our membership who fall within that segment. We would then need to be looking at a fee that is reasonable for startups so there may even need to be a small carve out for microbusinesses in order for them to be allowed for a short period of time to be able to benefit from possibly a lower trade fee to be able to then have their start up and then of course in the subsequent years for that to be reviewed on the adjusted. But I think the view here is to ensure that we continue to foster business growth because at the end of the day business growth in any of these municipalities is a win win for those municipalities because it means there is more activity being generated within those municipalities.”