LOCATION AND SIZE.
Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is a Central American nation roughly the size of Massachusetts. Belize shares borders with Guatemala and Mexico, to the west and the northwest, respectively. To the east it borders the Caribbean Sea, with a coastline of 240 miles. It has an area of 22,966 square kilometers (8,867 square miles). The capital, Belmopan, is located in the center of the country.
Belize, with an estimated 249,183 people in 2000, is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. The population has been growing at about 2.86 percent a year since 1995, when the population stood at 216,500.
The Belizean population is ethnically diverse, with the majority of the inhabitants being of multiracial descent. Approximately 46 percent of the people are mestizo (of mixed Mayan and European descent), 30 percent are African and Afro-European (Creole), 10 percent are Mayan, and 6 percent are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder are European, Chinese, East Indian, Middle Eastern, and North American.
The Belizean population is young, with 43 percent below the age of 15 in 2000. Life expectancy is 71 years. In 2000, only 3 percent of the population was over 64. The birth rate in 2000 was 32.29 per 1,000, while the death rate was 4.81 per 1,000.
Over half of Belizeans live in rural areas. About 25 percent live in Belize City, the former capital which is also the principal port and commercial center.
While gold, bauxite, barytes, and cassiterite do exist in Belize, they are not found in sufficient quantities to render them commercially viable. Dolomite limestone, which is used as road ballast and agricultural fertilizer, was the only mineral exploited in 2000. Agricultural-grade dolomite is sold on the domestic market to banana and citrus producers. It is also exported to the Windward Islands and Jamaica. Belize Minerals, the main local producer of dolomite, has sought new export markets in Central and South America, and has tried to produce a different grade of dolomite for use in the steel industry.
The manufacturing sector in Belize was targeted for growth, but in 1999 was still fairly small. Most manufacturing is done for domestic consumption. Export production generally involves the processing of agricultural products or the assembly of garments from imported fabric for re-export to the United States under the CBI. The assembly sector in Belize has had trouble competing with low-cost producers, especially those in Mexico. Between 1993 and 1995 earnings in the sector dropped 50 percent.
The government pledge to build 10,000 new houses, along with commitments to improve the infrastructure, stimulated increased activity in the construction sector, but contracts were primarily awarded to foreign firms that had more highly skilled workers and more building experience. Reconstruction after Hurricane Keith in 2000 was expected to produce a leap in construction activity.
Belize has all the ingredients of an attractive holiday destination. It has a mild climate, calm blue waters, and a large barrier reef that is ideal for scuba diving. It is also home to jungle ecosystems and ancient ruins. The government, wishing to capitalize on these attractions, targeted the tourist industry for expansion.
In 1996, Belize ratified the Munda Maya agreement with Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, pledging cooperation in the management of Mayan archeological sites. In 1997 Belize launched a marketing campaign to attract visitors, producing commercials for American television and putting ads in U.S. magazines. And in 1999, the country obtained a US$11.4 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to further advance the sector's development. That same year, the government was planning to build a tourist village in Belize City which would cater primarily to cruise ship passengers who come to shore for brief periods of time.
In 1995, 121,270 people visited Belize. By 1999, that number had increased to 167,096, a majority of which were Americans. Cruise ship arrivals, which numbered 7,953 in 1995, had risen to 34,130 by 1999. By the end of the decade, tourists were contributing over US$100 million a year to Belize's economy. In 1999, 1,365 jobs (over 30 percent of the jobs created that year) were added in the services sector.
There are 4 commercial banks in Belize. Belize Bank is owned by Carlisle Holdings. The other 3 banks are subsidiaries of larger foreign banks: Barclays Bank (UK), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Canada), and the Atlantic Bank (Honduras).
There are 2 development banks: the Small Farmers and Business Bank, which was established to help meet the needs of small farmers and businessmen, and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which caters to the needs of large-scale producers. The DFC typically directs institutional funds from other agencies such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to meet the government's development priorities.
|Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Belize|
|SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.|
Small enterprise owners who are in need of credit or technical assistance can also receive help from the National Development Foundation of Belize, a lending institution that was established from grant funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Belize has no territories or colonies.
The Belize dollar, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of 2:1. One Belize dollar (Bz$) is equal to 100 cents. Belizean currency comes in 100-, 50-, 20-, 10-, 5-, and 2-dollar bills with the occasional 1-dollar bill. Coins come in 1-dollar, 50, 25, 10, 5, and 1 Belizean cent units. The 25-cent piece is called a shilling.
Sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, clothing, fish products.
Food, consumer goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:
US$740 million (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).
BALANCE OF TRADE:
Exports: US$150 million (1998 est.). Imports: US$320 million (1998 est.).