Belize was formerly known as British Honduras and got its independence from Great Britain in 1981. Belize is 8866 square miles and lies on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula just below Cancun and is bounded on the North by Mexico and on the West by Guatemala. English is the official language. Belize is home to approximately 300,000 people many of whom are bilingual in English and Spanish.
Before its independence Belize’s economy was based on the traditional mainstays of lumber extraction from its forests, chicle gum from the sapodilla tree, sugar cane and citrus and basic agriculture and cattle rearing which was promoted by the colonial government through its Department of Agriculture. Belize is known for its excellent mahogany, cedar, and hardwoods and other exotic woods, although the production of lumber has decreased due to the depletion of its forests, Belize also has a small oil industry with much potential for growth. In 2004 Belize Natural Energy (BNE) a subsidiary of the Irish Company International Natural Energy (INE) found oil in the Spanish Lookout are of the Cayo District which it declared commercial in 2005. Since then and up to the end of 2009 the company has produced and exported more than US$250 million dollars worth of sweet crude.
Government of Belize earnings have totalled about US$50 million, a fifth of total earnings under a profit sharing agreement. BNE produces about 4600 barrels a day. In the last 30 to 40 years Belize has seen tremendous growth in the tourism industry and has also experienced growth in its agriculture sector and diversification into small agro industrial projects and financial services.
Belize has a small open economy and allows businesses to be established with no restriction except payment of a trade license. The principal sectors of Belize’s economy are currently agriculture, Cane sugar bananas, citrus, fisheries, small manufacturing, tourism, and financial services. The United States is Belize’s largest trading partner although imports are higher than exports. Areas of greatest opportunity include tourism, financial services, light industry technology and agriculture. The main agriculture exports are sugar, citrus and bananas. Sugar and bananas were sold under preferential tariff agreements to European markets until recently but these agreements have come to an end since 2009. The export of fresh fruit such as papayas and mangoes and peppers is increasing and so is fish farming and shrimp farming.
Belize maintains diplomatic relations with almost every nation in the world and is a member of the United Nations, the organization of American States, the British Commonwealth and the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank and several other international organizations.
The country’s climate is sub-tropical with virgin rain forests, un-spoilt beaches and the second largest barrier reef in the world and Belize’s people are some of the friendliest in the world, Belize is a country the size of Massachusetts but has a varied landscape and biodiversity which makes it “mother nature’s best kept secret”. Belize’s coast is dotted with many small islands known as “cayes” and some of the best diving and sport fishing in the world. Inland there are Mayan temples built before Christ and some of the most beautiful and un-spoilt rainforests in the world. A rich mix of history, Mayan ruins and cultural diversity of its people add to Belize’s attraction.
Belize is a leader in Central American countries for its vast system of protected areas both terrestrial and marine. Belize has 18.53% (approximately 2.61 million acres or 1.05 million hectares) of its land and sea resources protected under a variety of management structures. This is approximately 6 .6 % of its land in conservation management reserves, 0.20 % in archaeological reserves,, 9.39% in extraction reserves, less than 0.01% in bird sanctuaries and a further 2.3% in officially recognized private reserves. In all the protected areas system of Belize comprises 115 reserves of varying levels of protection that have evolved over several decades. The maritime protected areas encompass the rich resources of th e Mesoamerican Reef, many of which are vital for national industry such as fishing and tourism and all of which are part of the integrated coral reef system that is the jewel of this country.
The Government of Belize is operated on the principles of parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system. The country is a sovereign, democratic state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the constitutional head of state. The legal system is based on English common law and the reception of English statutory law received from time to time throughout the history of the colony. Belize has a strong independent judiciary which is one of the mainstays and pillars of Belize’s democracy and is jealously guarded. Belize is keen to develop its role as a Financial Services Center and has implemented rules that have to do with transparency, exchange rate stability (the Belize Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar at 2 to 1) and low inflation since 1981.
The offshore services sector has been established in Belize for more than twenty years and is growing steadily. It contributes 6% to GDP and its growth as an industry has been steady thereby assuring maximum benefit for the Belizean economy. Offshore banks [these are a few] are regulated by the Central Bank of Belize and while offshore companies, insurance companies, offshore trusts, are regulated by the International Financial Services Commission [IFSC]. Insurance, re-insurance and risk insurance are all growing areas. Belize has a strict anti money laundering law [the Money Laundering Act 2008] which was enacted into law after the 9/11 attacks in the United States to combat Money Laundering and terrorism.
Belize was previously placed on the grey list By the OECD but Belize has now signed twelve (12) Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEAs), which is the benchmark set by the OECD for removal from the grey list. The Countries are : United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Nertherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes and Portugal, The Agreement with Portugal was signed on the 22 October 2010 in London. The OECD has since removed Belize from the list. All TIEAs are with European or developed countries and this will assist in promoting Belize to international investors