With the bondholders of the Superbond now paid off, The Nature Conservancy is now in full business mode with the Government of Belize. At this juncture Belize is now looking at implementing several actions geared at marine conservation. The Blue Bond is a 19-year loan that comes with several requirements as explained by Julie Robinson of TNC.
Julia Robinson, The Nature Conservancy: “There are several agreements that are currently in place. The first is the blue loan agreement so that was for the restructuring of the superbond. So the superbond was a $553 million TNC came in and we provided the financing through Credit Swiss so Credit Swiss they’re the underwriters in order to purchase back that debt at forty five cents to the dollars. So think of it as actually a 45% discount on that superbond. So that provided immediate debt reduction and savings to the government of US $250 million straight off the bat. In addition to that – so this new loan agreement has a longer term so it’s a nineteen year term and that plus lower coupon rates in the early years and an extended term gives an over all debt service savings of another $200 million US. In the first five years alone it’s going to be $50 million US that government is going to save as part of this new deal so that’s the Blue Loan Agreement and that is being done through a subsidiary of TNC so we set up another company that’s called the Belize Blue Investment Company and so they’re the ones that purchased that debt essentially.”
Robinson went on to speak on the marine aspect of Belize’s commitments and how they are categorized.
Julie Robinson, The Nature Conservancy: “In terms of the conservation commitments there’s a suite of them. There’s a set that we call milestones and those milestones include things like protection of 30% of Belize’s oceans. Now when I say oceans I want to be very specific here because we’re talking about going all the way out to the 200 mile marker including the exclusive economic zone. Currently Belize is just under 16% protection so we’re talking about almost doubling that but it’s gonna be done in a way that is representative. So right now the area that has the least amount of protection is our deep sea ocean so those are some of the areas we’ll be concentrating on. In terms of that protection that will be done in a stepwise fashion so commitments like in the first year let’s get to 20%, in year three lets get to 25%, in year five let’s get to 30%, those are some of the commitments. That will be guided by a marine spatial plan. The marine spatial plan is another commitment that the government has made to the Nature Conservancy which is they will initiate that marine spatial plan within the first year. That we call that MSP so the marine spatial plan is the MSP. The MSP is a participatory process it will be led by government, facilitated by TNC but it will be stakeholder driven so that process is a lengthy process. We’re planning it to be a five year process and it will involve all the various users of the seas. So it will include the fisheries industry, it will include the tourism industry, navigation, recreation, and not only the current uses like how we use our seas now but it will also take into consideration any future uses. So for example if maybe in the future Belize might decide we want to put in some wind farms to generate sustainable energy or green energy if that is what government wants to do that will get incorporated into part of this planning as well. So just imagine it’s a plan that will kind of map out the entire ocean space all the way out to the EEC to say this is what’s allowed here, this is what’s allowed in this other area and to ensure that there’s no conflict between different users.”
Further to the Blue Bond agreement there are some expectations from the government but these are not mandatory.
Julie Robinson, The Nature Conservancy: “Other commitments are a little bit I would say softer in the sense that these are what government has said that they will commit to doing but there’s no financial penalty if they don’t get these done and these include things like improving the governance for fisheries, for aquaculture, setting up a framework for blue carbon, looking at watershed management, these are all so there’s a number of different things but I’d like to think of them as less of commitments but more this is kind of a partnership whereby TNC and other local NGOs and partners have said this is the way we as a country want to develop our blue economy, our sea scape and so these are all enabling conditions that will get us there.”