Take a walk down any store or shopping center in Belize and one cannot help but to reflect on how the domestic market is bulging at the seams with imports. Foreign products line the aisles and greatly outnumber domestic products and it’s a strong indication that merchandise trade is alive and well for palates inebriated with the flavour of foreign lands, not to mention the importers who look for every opportunity to satisfy them. Understandably, businesses are driven by profit and remain ever so vigilant of those products that drive their bottom line. The domestic market twisted, turned, shaken or spun on its head is simply a reflection of a narrow and lacklustre manufacturing base that on occasion has sputtered very few successful domestic products.
Undoubtedly, these few products put up a good fight and from time to time rise to the occasion at home and abroad particularly at tradeshows where they are given the opportunity to be showcased as unique in the context of attracting visitors to our lands, but it’s hardly enough to turn the tables on the smother of imports. On the aggregate it is a fact that domestic demand cannot be met by local supply alone, it’s a reality that any developing country must face. I recall as a young lad, 10 or 11 years at most, foolhardy taking up this fight with a teenager in High School. Clearly I would be at a disadvantage not because he was older and bigger than me in size but rather he was already experiencing the nurtures of knowledge and wisdom that a higher education affords. Growing up at the door step of the Mexican border I argued that Belizean products were superior to those of mighty Mexico; imagine at this tender age, I was arguing on the basis of comparison as if I knew the dynamics of comparative advantage or competitiveness. I do not recall the reason for this argument nor do I recall on what grounds I stood or how I would come to this conclusion yet I blurted it out in stubborn fashion perhaps out of shear ignorance. The counter argument was one which rocked me from the grounds I stood upon but it is one that is deeply rooted in the reality that we come to face today; our food pantry was filled to the brim with Mexican products begging the question as to superiority. On a larger scale – traditional basic commodities considered – the Belizean food pantry remains a mirror reflection of this trend, with products from markets near and far.
Socioeconomics aside it signals that not much has changed in the market that we flock to on a daily basis. The growing dominance we see today stems from the ability to compete on price and quality and strong consumer preference triggered by a willingness to pay for absurdities in some instances. Belizean products as great as some are, continue to be out matched with the pendulum swinging in favour of imports. By no means do I, for reasons previously mentioned, suggest that the economy can be positively charged any time soon to dramatically bring this trend to a screeching halt. However, it is a reminder that Belize’s competitive spirit must be dusted from the doldrums and bootstrapped to pull the market into range. This it must do in plutonic fashion if it intends to create new opportunities for domestic production which I must say, with much candour continues to flat line. With Partial Scope Agreements in Central America, Mexico and to some extent Asia on the horizon, the Government of Belize is doing what it must to counterbalance the dictates of trade, which at flashpoint is combusting at a rapid rate towards the global economy. While the government takes aim at the market it is also ensuring positive change among institutions, particularly those that can provide the necessary spark for Belize’s competitive engine.
The Belize Bureau of Standards is one such institution that is gearing up to do just that, bringing positive change to the scenes for domestic production and by extension services as the institution would be aloof not to consider the importance of services to economic growth. Today the Bureau is currently working on a total of 49 standards majority of which are service sector related. This changing tide is an indication that public and private institutions are coming to recognize the importance of standardization as a key ingredient in turning the tables on trade in goods and services regardless of how challenging this may be. In retrospect, I could never imagine that the drive for a competitive Belize would have been ignited many years ago but I am all too happy and proud to serve in this capacity.