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National Trade Policy Launched

National Trade Policy Launched
March 08
14:30 2019

By Dyon Elliot
– Belize Chamber of Commerce –

“In any case, yes, that is what the Trade Policy is to us at the BCCI: Hope. It reflects our hope that there will be more proactive and genuine consultations as it pertains to responding to those international obligations that impact any of those Guiding Principles and identified Policy Pillars. It reflects our earnest anticipation that when taking positions, the cost implications to the private sector are not relegated. Lastly, there is that expectation that those within the public sector who, as I’ve said earlier, ‘get it’, won’t be so ‘alone’”—BCCI President Nikita Usher.

Speaking at the launch of the National Trade Policy (NTP), the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI)’s President Nikita Usher expressed his high expectation that the arrival of the NTP reflects the dawning of a new paradigm as it pertains to policy making. Usher, using a few contemporary examples, underscored that doing business in Belize is often challenged by the public policy landscape that too often sees regulations or laws enacted that adversely impact businesses, notwithstanding the fact that officials often publicly declare the private sector as the economy’s “backbone”.

Commenting on this mismatch between word and deed, Usher explained: “It cannot be that we simply give lip service to the cliché of the private sector is the ‘backbone’ of the economy; and then, have siloed policy making with seemingly conflicting treatment of that backbone,” he said. “This policy is the perfect inflection point for us to have an honest assessment of whether such an approach has truly helped us over the last three decades.”

Fundamentally, the Cabinet-approved NTP reflects government’s commitment to have the policy serve as a type of guidepost for policy measures across the entire public sector. This, Usher reiterated, is essential because it would help to mitigate those instances in which government regulations needlessly run contrary to the Guiding Principles such as increasing competitiveness of the Belizean private sector.

But Usher reminded that the NTP is not only useful in guiding the development of home-grown public policies, but it also provides a unified foundation from which both public and private sector can speak to regional initiatives. One such example given was the current series of consultations being conducted across member states regarding the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ)’s Front of Package Labeling (FOPL) proposed standards.

With the BCCI having been in contact with several of its counterparts in other sister states, the general consensus appears to be that the FOPL measure would carry signifiicant cost implications. The BCCI President noted, however, that despite such a near unanimous consensus regarding the cost implications, the previous absence of an across-government framework led to some public offices adopting positions that “ostensibly” run (unnecessarily) contradictory to the NTP’s premier objective of reducing the cost of doing business.

While sounding the alarm, Usher, however, made it clear that the BCCI is not discounting the importance of other aspects of sustainable development. For example, given that the FOPL is rooted in health concerns, he explained: “The BCCI is not opposed to the health-oriented objectives that underpin the FOPL warning labels idea. The point that we are making here is that HOPEFULLY we are looking at the dawn of a new public-sector paradigm that does not summarily discount private-sector cost considerations or the recommendations towards effective solutions that could lead to practical and cost-effective middle grounds.”

The NTP is the culmination of several years of consultative work with private- and public-sector stakeholders. As a final product, the NTP is driven by three Guiding Principles: (i) Promoting Competitiveness, (ii) Attainment of Asymmetrical Treatment, and (iii) Commitment to Regionalism. These are also rooted in policy pillars such as Trade Facilitation and Enhancement of Market Access.

Each of those principles and pillars are essential to doing business in Belize, and it is for that reason that the expectations for the NTP are truly high, and the private sector, as Usher made abundantly clear, remains as “a True Partner” towards ensuring that the tenets of the policy are adhered to, as they can only help to boost the health of the Belizean economy.

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