1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Belize’s government encourages FDI to relieve fiscal pressure and transform the economy. In November 2021, the Government of Belize hosted its first national Investment Summit under the theme “Belize: Open for Business.” The Government of Belize also conducted trade missions to the United States to promote itself as an investment destination and credible export market. In April 2022, senior Belizean government representatives hosted a diaspora tour in the United States to encourage Belizean-Americans to invest in Belize. The estimated Belize diaspora is 300,000 persons. While the government is interested in attracting FDI, certain bureaucratic and regulatory requirements impede investment and growth.
Public debt declined from 133 percent of GDP in 2020 to 108 percent in 2021. This was in large part due to the Blue Bond Agreement, a successful marine protection and conservation-driven financial transaction. Under this deal, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) lent funds to Belize to buy back its Superbond (totaling US $553 million or 30 percent of GDP) at a discounted price of 55 cents per dollar. In exchange, Belize committed to increase expenditure on marine conservation until 2041 and to expand its Biodiversity Protection Zones to 30 percent by 2026.
There are no laws that explicitly discriminate against foreign investors. In practice, however, investors complain that lack of transparency, land insecurity, bureaucracy, delays, and corruption are factors that make it difficult to do business in Belize. U.S. firms have identified challenges in participating and competing in areas related to the bidding, procurement, and dispute settlement processes, in particular relating to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE; www.belizeinvest.org.bz ) is the investment and export promotion agency. It promotes FDI through various incentive packages and identified priority sectors. Export-orientated businesses operating in less developed areas also receive preferential treatment. The Economic Development Council, https://edc.gov.bz , is a public-private sector advisory body established to advance public sector reforms, to promote private sector development and to inform policies for growth and development.
Belize acknowledges the right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activities. Foreign and domestic entities must first register their business before engaging in business. They must also register for the appropriate taxes, including business tax and general sales tax, as well as obtain a social security number and trade license.
Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank of Belize and adhere to the Exchange Control Act and related regulations. To register a business name, foreigners must apply with a Belizean partner or someone with a permanent residence. Requirements differ based on the applicant’s residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local or foreign currency account.
Foreign investments must be registered and obtain an “Approved Status” from the Central Bank to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency and repatriate funds gained from profits, dividends, loan payments, and interest. The Exchange Control Regulation Act was amended in 2020 to relax the requirement for non-residents to obtain prior permission from the Central Bank to conduct transaction in securities and real estate. The amendment now requires for prior written notice to the Central Bank with full particulars of the transaction.
Some investment incentives show preference to Belizean-owned companies. For example, to qualify for a tour operator license, a business must be majority-owned by Belizeans or permanent residents of Belize ( http://www.belizetourismboard.org ). This qualification is negotiable, particularly where a tour operation would expand into a new sector of the market and does not result in competition with local operators. The government does not impose any intellectual property transfer requirements.
Foreign investors seeking to avail themselves of various incentives programs are required to adhere to screening guidelines outlined in the specific program. These may include updating their shareholders registry, obtaining requisite Central Bank of Belize approvals, and fulfilling performance requirements. Foreign investors undertaking large capital investments are also advised to adhere to environmental laws and regulations. The government requires developers to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for certain projects. When purchasing land or planning to develop in or near an ecologically sensitive zone, the government recommends the EIA fully address any measures by the investor to mitigate environmental risks. The Department of Environment website, http://www.doe.gov.bz has more information on the Environmental Protection Act and other regulations, applications, and guidelines.
In the past three years, there has been no investment policy review of Belize by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Belize concluded its third Trade Policy Review in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2017.
In the past five years, civil society organizations concerned with investment policy lobbied directly with government. As an example, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Belize Network of NGOs, and the opposition were represented on the National Oversight Committee during the height of the COVID- 19 pandemic.
BELTRAIDE ( http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz ), a statutory body of the Government of Belize, operates as the country’s investment and export promotion agency. Its investment facilitation services are open to all investors, foreign and domestic. While there are support measures to advance greater inclusion of women and minorities in entrepreneurial initiatives and training, the business facilitation measures do not generally distinguish by gender or economic status.
The GoB made progress on the ease of doing business through trade license, stamp duty, exchange control, and land reforms to streamline business applications and related processes. Myriad government services are going digital. Business and personal income tax offices amalgamated into the Belize Tax Service which launched an online tax payment system. Belize’s Financial Inclusion Strategy also expands access of financial services to underserved populations. Businesses must register with the tax department and local government to pay business and general sales tax and obtain a trade license. An employer should also register employees for social security. Permission from the Central Bank is required for all overseas investments between residents and non-residents
The Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry (tel: +501 822 0421; email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; website: https://belizecompaniesregistry.gov.bz ) is responsible for the registration process of all local businesses and companies.
Belize does not promote or incentivize outward investments. The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. However, the Central Bank places currency controls on investment abroad, with Central Bank approval required prior to foreign currency outflows.