Tag Archives: Belize

Belize undergoes third WTO Trade Policy Review

Photo credit: Alicia Nicholls 2016

Alicia Nicholls

Belize underwent its third World Trade Organisation (WTO) mandated Trade Policy Review over the period April 24th and 26th, 2017. Trade Policy Reviews are a mandatory exercise under the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism. Each WTO member country’s national trade and other trade-related policies are peer-reviewed by the Trade Policy Review Body (the WTO General Council acting under special rules and procedures).

The frequency of the reviews depends on the country’s share of world trade. The purpose of the trade policy reviews is to help to ensure transparency of member countries’ trade policies. Belize has previously undergone reviews in 2010 and 2004.

Some key findings from Belize’s 2017 review

These findings were taken from the WTO Secretariat Report and the Chairman’s concluding remarks.

The Report noted that several issues had affected Belize’s economy during the review period, including the decline in oil prices, disease outbreaks affecting its agriculture sector and the impact from the loss of correspondent banking relationships due to the de-risking practices of major global banks.

Areas of praise

Members praised Belize for the following:

 

  • Its diversification into tourism which is now the major driver of the country’s economy, and the adoption of the country’s first National Trade Policy Framework.
  • Belize’s participation in the WTO. Some members also suggested that the country establish a permanent mission in Geneva.
  • Belize was commended  for being among the first Members to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement and for having notified its Category A commitments.  Belize also recently established a National Committee on Trade Facilitation
  • Members commended Belize’s efforts to modernize its trade regime and customs procedures.
  • Reduction by half of the number of products subject to import licensing, but some members noted that this was followed by tariffication, resulting in some applied MFN tariffs exceeding their bound rates.
  • Noting Belize’s membership of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Members encouraged Belize to continue engagement in regional integration and trade liberalization schemes.
  • Belize was commended for its acceptance of the Protocol amending the TRIPS Agreement; while some Members encouraged Belize to join the WIPO treaties.
  • The establishment of Belize’s first Internet Exchange Point to reduce the costs of local internet traffic.
  • Members acknowledged the recent reforms to Belize’s financial services regulatory framework.
  • Some Members welcomed Belize’s efforts to improve its air transport infrastructure and air links, and encouraged Belize to replicate such efforts to enhance land and maritime transport.

Areas of concern

  • Members, however, were concerned that Belize had not submitted notifications in a number of areas, and urged for compliance with the WTO requirements.
  • Several Members highlighted Belize’s three incentive programmes granting export subsidies which should have been eliminated by 31 December 2015. However, they acknowledged Belize’s ongoing efforts to amend the relevant legislation.

As noted by the Chairman, Belize was commended for providing prompt and helpful answers to all written questions submitted in advance by members, as well as to all that came after the deadline.

Belize is the fourth WTO member country to undergo review so far for the year, following Sierra Leone, Japan and Mexico. The other CARICOM member state to be reviewed this year is Jamaica which will undergo its review on September 13 & 15.

The documents from Belize’s review, including the full WTO Secretariat Report and the Chairman’s Concluding Statement, may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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Belize accepts TRIPS Amendment

Alicia Nicholls

Belize has become the latest member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to accept the amendment to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which seeks to improve poorer members’ access to affordable medicines.

This  amendment to the TRIPS Agreement formalises and makes permanent the waiver provided by paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, known as the “Paragraph 6 System” in 2003. The amendment was approved by the WTO General Council on December 6, 2005, and permits exporting countries to grant compulsory licenses for the manufacture and export of pharmaceutical products to poorer countries.

The protocol is not yet in force and will only enter into force upon acceptance by two-thirds of the WTO’s membership. The original deadline for acceptance was December 1, 2007 but has been extended to December 31  2017 by the General Council in November 2015.

So far the following CARICOM countries have accepted the amendment: Grenada (2015), St. Kitts & Nevis (2015), St. Lucia (2016), Trinidad & Tobago (2013).

More from the WTO’s press release here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

De-risking and its Foreign Trade Impact in the Caribbean

Alicia Nicholls

A few weeks ago I had the honour and pleasure of presenting on the Foreign Trade Impact of De-Risking at the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (ICAC) 34th Annual Conference in beautiful Belize as part of a panel discussion along with Dr. Trevor Brathwaite, Deputy Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and Mr. Filippo Alario, Chief Risk Officer of Belize Bank.

Alicia Nicholls ICAC 2016 Belize

Alicia Nicholls  at ICAC 2016 Photo compliments of R Mohammed

I wish to again express my gratitude to ICAC for the invitation and to all stakeholders and everyone who kindly provided me with information and assisted me in my research.

Some of the key points from the presentation were as follows:

  • De-risking is a business decision but with serious implications for Caribbean foreign trade.
  • As small open economies, Caribbean countries are highly dependent on foreign trade as evidenced by their high trade to GDP ratios which range between 70-130% of GDP, according to World Bank data.
  • Several Caribbean countries are among the most dependent in the world on remittance-inflows.
  • Bank de-risking threatens the region’s integration into the global trade and financial systems and has implications for economic growth, stability, employment.
  • Disruptions to remittance and FDI flows by de-risking also have poverty alleviation and sustainable development implications.
  • Cross-border payment for goods via wire transfer and remittance sending appear to be the most affected from a trade perspective.

Several persons  have written me requesting a copy of the full presentation. It is available below:

ICAC_Presentation_2016_ANicholls(1)

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

CCJ Issues Ruling in Gay Rights Freedom of Movement Case

Alicia Nicholls

Test cases in law are a legal academic’s dream. They  help to map uncharted legal waters by establishing important legal principles and rights, which, as precedents, would be binding in subsequent cases whose facts are similar. The consolidated  test cases of Tomlinson v Belize, Trinidad & Tobago brought by prominent Jamaican attorney and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex) activist, Mr Maurice Tomlinson, before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) aimed to do just that.

Mr. Tomlinson challenged the consistency of discriminatory provisions contained in the Immigration Acts of the defendant states, Belize and Trinidad & Tobago, which classify homosexuals among the classes of prohibited immigrants. He claimed that the mere existence of those provisions infringed his right of entry as an LGBTI Community national under Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the 2007 Heads of Government Conference Decision.

Article XII of the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice gives the Court exclusive jurisdiction, subject to provisions of the Revised Treaty, in matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty. Freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals has been a sore point in Community relations, with some States claiming that their nationals are routinely discriminated against.  The Court rendered its landmark decision on the right of freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals in the case of Myrie v Barbados. The CCJ’s ruling in that case established definitively that CARICOM member states were bound by the 2007 Decision of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM to allow all CARICOM nationals hassle-free entry into their territories and a stay of six months upon arrival. The only exceptions for refusing entry are where  the Member State deems a person to be “undesirable person” or where  it is believed the Community national seeking entry may become a charge on public funds.

The points of law raised in the instant case are unique as it is the first time that a CARICOM national has challenged the immigration laws of a CARICOM member state on the basis of infringing the right of entry of LGBTI community persons. Mr. Tomlinson also claimed infringement of his right under Article 7 of the Revised Treaty to not be discriminated against on the basis of nationality only and that being a UWI graduate and thus a Skilled CARICOM National, his rights under Article 46 of the Treaty would also be infringed.

The relevant sections from the two Immigration  Acts in question are as follows:

Belize Immigration Act (Cap 156):

5.-(1) Subject to section 2 (3), the following persons are prohibited
immigrants-

(e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living
on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the
proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour;

Trinidad & Tobago Immigration Act

8. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), entry into
Trinidad and Tobago of the persons described in this subsection,
other than citizens and, subject to section 7(2), residents, is
prohibited, namely—

(e) prostitutes, homosexuals or persons living on
the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals, or
persons reasonably suspected as coming to
Trinidad and Tobago for these or any other
immoral purposes;

As a matter of context for readers outside of the Caribbean, LGBTI rights are still not recognised in Caribbean countries. No one needs to look further than the many archaic and discriminatory laws still found on our statute books, which though not all enforced, still discriminate against members of the LGBTI community and are incongruous to the requirement of legal certainty.

Mr. Tomlinson argued that while he has never been himself denied entry into the defendant member states,  the mere existence of the provisions in question were inconsistent with his right of entry as to enter would amount to him being in breach of the law. As such, Mr. Tomlinson not only requested the Court to make declaratory orders declaring his right of entry to these states, but also that the provisions in question violated his right to freedom of movement and his right not to be discriminated against on the basis of nationality only. He also requested the court to order Belize and Trinidad & Tobago to remove homosexuals from the class of prohibited immigrants.

For their part, the defendant states argued, inter alia, that the existence of the provisions in question in their Immigration Acts  has not hindered Mr. Tomlinson’s entry into their territories. They also did not deny that Mr. Tomlinson was entitled to entry and stay of up to 6 months. The defendant states also agreed that they did not see Mr. Tomlinson, a homosexual, as an “undesirable person” within the meaning given in the 2007 Conference decision.

Judgment

The Court agreed that homosexuals cannot be categorised as ‘undesirable persons’ and concluded that homosexual CARICOM nationals have a right to freedom of movement on the same terms as any other CARICOM national. However, in regards to the central issue on whether the mere existence of the challenged statutory provisions constituted a breach of those States’ obligations, the Court had consideration for the state practice in Belize and Trinidad & Tobago. Interestingly, the Court accepted Belize’s interpretation of section 5(1)(e) of its Immigration Act that homosexuals are only prohibited from entering the country in cases where they are engaging in prostitution or benefiting from acts of prostitution performed by others.

Turning to Trinidad & Tobago, the Court found that unlike the Belize provision, the provision in the Trinidad & Tobago Immigration Act expressly prohibited the entry of homosexuals and not solely those seeking to engage in prostitution. The Court, however, accepted Trinidad & Tobago’s evidence of state practice that despite the existence of this discriminatory provision, it is not enforced.

Noting the inconsistency of 8(1)(e) of Trinidad & Tobago’s Immigration Act with the Revised Treaty, the Court, however, made reference to Article 9 of the Revised Treaty which provides that “in the event of any inconsistencies between the provisions of this Act and the operation of any other law, the provisions of this Act [the Revised Treaty] shall prevail to the extent of the inconsistency’. The Court also noted that the state practice of Trinidad & Tobago and Belize does not suggest any incompatibility with the Revised Treaty or the 2007 Conference Decision. The Court held, therefore, that Tomlinson had no valid reason to assume that his rights would not be respected by the States.

However, the Court further emphasised at paragraph 59 of the Judgment that it was not condoning the retention by member states of legislation which conflicts with Community Law and stressed that “[s]tates should ensure that national laws, subsidiary legislation and administrative practices are transparent in their support of the free movement of all CARICOM nationals”. The Court also dismissed Mr. Tomlinson’s claims that his rights under Articles 7 and 46 of the Revised Treaty were infringed.

Jurisprudential Impact

Although the defendant lost his claim and was denied the requested remedies, this test case achieved two main things. Firstly, the Court stated definitively that “the practice or policy of admitting homosexual nationals from other CARICOM States (not falling under the two exceptions mentioned in the 2007 Conference Decision) is not a matter of discretion but is legally required based on Article 9 of the RTC as this is an appropriate measure within the meaning of that provision”. Therefore, States cannot as a matter of practice deny entry of homosexuals into their territories. It is hoped, however, that member States will move with alacrity to repeal those discriminatory sections of their Immigration Acts, and also give greater importance to bringing their laws into conformity with Community rules.

Secondly, in so doing, the judgment has added to the Court’s growing jurisprudence, including on the contentious issue of freedom of movement.This significance was not lost on the Court. The justices stated at paragraph 65 of the judgment that the case “raised novel questions and has contributed to the clarification and development of Community law”. While litigation may be costly for member states against which claims are brought, the testing of issues of law by Community nationals helps to clarify points of Community law and ensure that member states are held accountable and uphold the rights which they agreed that Community nationals should enjoy.

Recognising the need not to discourage parties from bringing test cases, particularly in the Court’s current stage of development, the Court in its discretion found the current circumstances were “exceptional circumstances” under Part 31.1(3) of its Original Jurisdiction Rules 2015 and so ordered both parties to bear their own costs.

Copies of the summary, entire judgment and the video of the delivery of the judgment are available on the CCJ’s website here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

Correspondent Banking concerns raised in IMF’s Staff Report on Belize

Alicia Nicholls

Though noting that the termination of major correspondent banking relationships with Belizean banks has so far had a limited impact on that country’s financial system and economic activity, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest staff report on Belize pursuant to its Article IV consultations agreed that the “recent termination of corresponding banking relationships with Belizean banks and banks in many other countries could have a significant impact on financial stability and economic activity in the affected countries.”

Belize is one of the few Caribbean countries, whose government still sees it fit to allow the IMF  Article IV staff reports to be publicly available. Belize has been at the forefront of efforts by Caribbean governments to raise awareness about the havoc the loss of correspondent banking relationships due to international banks’ de-risking practices could have on the economies of the Region, including on their trade, investment and remittance inflows.

Last year, Bank of America, one of the largest US banks, terminated its correspondent banking relationship with Belize Bank. The IMF staff report noted that this had had a limited impact on the financial system as new arrangements were able to have been put in place with the help of the Central Bank and major credit card companies. However, among the downside risks which could affect their baseline outlook, the IMF noted that “other banks could also lose their CBRs with global banks with severe impact on international financial transactions”.

IMF directors “urged the authorities regulating international banks that are terminating correspondent banking relationships to better clarify their expectations of how these international banks should deal with local banks they perceive as “high risk””.

The IMF staff lauded Belize’s AML/CFT reform efforts, noting that “the deficiencies identified by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) in 2011 have been mostly addressed”. They did, however, stress that “important reforms are still needed to ensure compliance and effective implementation of Belize’s AML/CFT regime in line with the 2012 FATF standard”.

In regards to Belize’s overall macroeconomic position, the IMF highlighted the recent improvement in economic activity. However, they noted that “Belize’s economic outlook is characterized by sluggish growth, weak fiscal stance, and external and financial sector vulnerabilities”. Though predicting that growth over the short-to-medium term would hover around 2.5 percent, they noted that excess spending could cause the fiscal outlook to worsen. They also expect public debt to increase to “unsustainable levels” in excess of 100 percent of GDP in 2016.

The full IMF Staff Report on Belize may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

27th CARICOM Heads of Government Intersessional Meeting Concludes

Alicia Nicholls

This week February 16-17th the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) converged in Placencia, Belize for their 27th Inter-sessional Meeting. The meeting was chaired by current CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister, the Honourable Dean Barrow of Belize.

At the opening ceremony which was live streamed online, current CARICOM Chairman, the Honourable Dean Barrow and CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque and immediate Past Chairman, Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Honourable Freundel Stuart, gave addresses.

Issues discussed

Security, correspondent banking, Zika and climate change were the major issues discussed by the Heads of Government over the two day meeting. The Heads of Government also discussed the Belize-Guatemala and Guyana-Venezuela border disputes, cricket governance, the future of ACP-EU relations, CARICOM-Dominican Republic relations and the application for Associate Membership of the Community by six territories.

Outcomes

According to the Communiqué released following the meeting, there were several outcomes. The following are excerpts from the communiqué:

  • Re-appointment of Secretary-General and two-term limit: Current Secretary-General of CARICOM Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, was re-appointed for his second term by the Heads of Government as Secretary General of the Community. The Heads agreed that the post of Secretary General would have a maximum of two terms.
  • Protocol to Incorporate CONSLE as an Organ of the Community: The Protocol Amending the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to Incorporate the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE) as an Organ of the Community and the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) as an Institution of the Community was opened for signature. Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia and Guyana have signed the Protocol so far.
  • Appointment of a High-Level Group on Correspondent Banking: Heads of Government agreed to the appointment of a high-level advocacy group on Correspondent Banking, led by the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, with the responsibility to represent the interest of the Region in addressing the issue.
  • Climate Change: Heads of Government agreed to maintain the diplomatic demarche at international levels in support of the 1.5°C goal and that the Task Force on Sustainable Development should continue their work to facilitate the implementation of the Agreement.
  • Zika: The Heads of Government mandated CARPHA and the CARICOM Secretariat to report to the Council for Human and Social Development on Health on the implementation and effectiveness of the course of action agreed to tackling Zika. Heads of Government endorsed the proposal for a Caribbean Mosquito Awareness Week to be inaugurated in May 2016.
  • Associate Membership of CARICOM: Heads of Government received a report from a Technical Working Group (TWG) on issues related to Associate Membership in CARICOM. Noting the on-going reforms in the Community and the resource challenges that would be faced by the Secretariat with respect to any future enlargement of the Community, Heads of Government recognised the need for the articulation of an enlargement policy which should be submitted for their consideration at the July meeting of the Conference.
  • Relations with the Dominican Republic: Heads of Government agreed that the human rights situation of Dominicans of Haitian descent must form part of the Agenda of the CARIFORUM-EU policy or political dialogue.
  • ACP-EU Relations: Heads of Government received a presentation on the Future of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). His Excellency Ambassador Patrick Gomes, Secretary-General of the African Caribbean Pacific Group of States (ACP) also attended the meeting.
  • Cricket Governance: Heads of Government endorsed the recommendations of the Final Report of the Review Panel on the Governance of Cricket of October 2015 and affirmed that they must be implemented.
  • Border Disputes: Heads of Government reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the maintenance and preservation of Belize and Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

These issues will likely be further discussed at the 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference which will be held July 4-6th. It will be co-hosted by the CARICOM Secretariat and the Government of Guyana and will be chaired by Prime Minister of Dominica, the Honourable Roosevelt Skeritt, who will assume chairmanship of the Community in July.

The full communiqué of the 27th Heads of Government Interessional Meeting may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

CARICOM Heads of Government 27th Inter-sessional taking place this week

Alicia Nicholls

The Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will be meeting in Belize this week for their 27th Inter-sessional meeting. The meeting, which will be taking place February 16th-17th, will  see a number of important issues on the agenda.

Chief of which will likely be the Zika outbreak currently affecting several countries across the Caribbean and which the World Health Organisation declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 1 February 2016. Moreover, the outbreak comes during the height of the Region’s tourism season, the main industry for many Caribbean countries. No doubt besides the public health risks, a key concern will be the potential economic fall-out from any negative impact on the Region’s tourism sector as most regional economies continue to experience sluggish economic growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Besides Zika, an issue which was discussed at the 26th Inter-sessional in the Bahamas last year and which remains of grave concern to the Region is international banks’ termination of correspondent banking relationships with indigenous banks in the Region due to de-risking practices. A recent World Bank survey that was published in November last year found that the Caribbean was likely the Region most affected by the loss of correspondent banking relationships. According to CARICOM Today, the Committee of Finance, which is working alongside the Caribbean Association of Banks, will prepare a strategy for the Heads of Government’s consideration during their meeting.

Climate change will also be a prominent agenda item. This will be the first inter-sessional meeting since the historic Paris Agreement was concluded at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris late last year and the Agreement will be open for ratification from April this year. Caribbean countries and other small island developing states were instrumental in getting many of their concerns incorporated into the final text of the Agreement.

Several other issues may also be discussed as well, including the future of ACP-EU relations in light of the impending expiration of the Cotonou Partnership in 2020, relations with the Dominican Republic, security and terrorism concerns in light of reports of CARICOM nationals leaving the Region to join ISIS ranks, reparations, the still unresolved border disputes between Guyana-Venezuela and Belize-Guatemala, as well as the reform process and the way forward for the realisation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

According to a press release by the Barbados Government Information Service, the  Heads of Government are also expected to consider the applications for Associate Membership of CARICOM made by five territories: Curacao, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin. Additionally, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, will be a special guest at the Conference.

The Opening Ceremony of the 27th Inter-sessional Meeting will be live-streamed on the official website of CARICOM, http://www.caricom.org on Monday, February 15th. The Closing Ceremony will also be live-streamed on Wednesday, February 17th.

For further information on the upcoming 27th Inter-sessional Meeting, please see this report from CARICOM Today.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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