Belize - Overview of economy

In 1999, Belize's GDP grew at a quick pace, reaching to US$740 million. The per capita income (at PPP) was approximately US$3,100 a year (1999 est.). Economic figures for 2000 were expected to drop due to damage stemming from Hurricane Keith, which caused massive damage to the primary agricultural sector. In addition, the country had US$244 million in foreign debt .

Well into the 1900s, Belize depended on forestry to sustain its economy. When timber supplies began to dwindle, cane sugar emerged as the main source of foreign exchange. Although a majority of the arable land in Belize had still not been cultivated in 1999, agriculture was one of the most vibrant sectors of the economy, contributing 13.4 percent of GDP. Sugar was the leading export earner, bringing in approximately 50 percent of all domestic export revenues and accounting for half of all farmland in Belize.

While sugar production remained a staple in the last half of the 1990s, agricultural performance was accentuated by the production of citrus fruits (primarily oranges and grapefruits), which nearly doubled between 1995 and 1999. Bananas, the second most important crop, accounted for 16 percent of total exports in 1999.

The performance of agricultural products was enhanced by preferential access to U.S. and European markets. Under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), which was launched in August of 1990, products derived from citrus fruits, such as frozen concentrated juices, enjoyed

duty -free access to American markets. Sugar and banana producers also relied on favorable quotas to maintain high export levels to the European Union. This preferential access was called into question in 1995 when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the European Union (EU) went against free trade legislation by giving preference to Caribbean banana exports. In preparation for the potential loss of this particular market, Belize began to diversify its exports, increasing the farming of nontraditional crops such as chili peppers, papayas, and vegetables.

The manufacturing base in Belize is fairly limited, accounting for only 9 percent of the employed labor force ; however, initiatives have been taken to stimulate growth in the sector. An Export Processing Zone (EPZ) allowing for the duty-free import of equipment and machinery was established near the international airport at Belize City, and a commercial free zone providing similar tax exemptions was set up at Corozal, along the Mexican border. The government in Belize took significant steps to shore up the country's infrastructure , promoting tourism and attracting foreign investment. In 1999, some 185 U.S. companies had operations in Belize. Tourism has risen steadily, and was the fastest growing sector of the Belizean economy in 2000.

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