Transparency of the Regulatory System
Regulatory authority exists both at the local and national levels with national laws and regulations being most relevant to foreign businesses. The government publishes a Gazette that includes proposed as well as enacted laws and regulations. Government ministries also make available policies, laws, and regulations pertinent to their portfolio available on their respective ministry websites. Since 2016, enacted laws have been published on the website of the National Assembly. There is usually a delay updating the website.
Despite these measures, some investors complain that the regime for incentives did not always meet their needs, that land titles are not always reliable and secure, and that bureaucratic delays or corruption can be hindrances to doing business in Belize.
There are quasi-governmental organizations mandated by law to manage specified regulatory processes on behalf of the Government of Belize, e.g. the Belize Tourism Board, BELTRAIDE, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority. There are no reports that these processes significantly distort or discriminate against foreign investors.
The cabinet dictates government policies that are enacted by the legislature and implemented by the various government ministries. Regulations exist at the local level, primarily relating to property taxes and registering for trade licenses to operate businesses in the municipality.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory systems are consistent with international norms. Publicly owned companies are generally audited annually and the reports are prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards and International Standards on Auditing.
Draft bills are published in the Gazette by the Government of Belize printers and are publicly available for a minimal fee. Draft bills are generally open to public comment. Once introduced in the House of Representatives, they are passed to Standing Committees of the House of Representatives which then meet and invite the public and interested persons to review, recommend changes, or object to draft laws prior to further debate. Public comments on draft legislation are not generally posted online nor made publicly available. It would be the prerogative of an interested party to attend public consultations, committee meetings, or to request the public comments from the National Assembly or relevant Ministry. Additionally, laws are sometimes passed quickly without meaningful publication or public review, as was the case with the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities Act) 2017 and the Crown Proceedings (Amendment Act), 2017.
Regulatory decisions are subject to judicial review.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Belize’s foreign, economic and trade policies regarding non-members are coordinated regionally. The country’s import tariffs are largely defined by CARICOM’s Common External Tariffs.
Belize is also a member of several other treaties as a result of its membership within CARICOM. A primary example is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union (EU).
Outside of CARICOM, Belize is also a member of the Central American Integration System (SICA) at a political level, but is not a part of the Secretariat of Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) that supports economic integration of Central America.
Belize is a member of the WTO and CARICOM and adheres to the norms established by these organizations. Belize also ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2015 and is at 33.6 percent rate of implementation.
The Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) is the national standards body responsible for preparing, promoting and implementing standards for goods, services, and processes. The BBS operates in in accordance with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Belize Constitution is founded on the principle of separation of powers with independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative branches of government. As a former British colony, Belize follows the English Common Law legal system, which is based on established case law. Belize has a written Contract Act, which is supported by precedents from the national courts as well as from the wider English speaking and Commonwealth case law. Contracts are legally enforced through the courts. In 2010, Belize adopted the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final appellate court on civil and criminal matters. This replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.
General information relating to Belize’s judicial and legal system, including links to Belize’s Constitution, Laws and judicial decisions are available at the Judiciary of Belize website www.belizejudiciary.org.
There are specialized courts that deal with family related matters including divorce and child custody but no specialized courts to deal with commercial disputes or cases.
The current judicial process faces systematic challenges that relate both to civil and criminal cases, including frequent adjournments, delays, and a backlog of cases. Several measures are being implemented to improve the country’s judiciary. The training of mediators and the introduction of court-connected mediation support alternative methods to dispute settlement. This effort along with better case management procedures is expected to decrease the court’s caseload, time delays, and cost particularly for smaller claim civil cases.
Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable. Judgments by the Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are available at http://www.belizejudiciary.org . Judgments by the Caribbean Court of Justice, Belize’s highest appellate court are available at http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org .
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The laws, rules, procedures, and report requirements related to investors differ depending on the nature of the investment. BELTRAIDE provides advisory services and other related information for foreign investors relating to procedures for doing business in Belize and incentives available to qualifying investors. Further information is available at the BELTRAIDE website: http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz/ .
Enacted laws are generally available in the National Assembly’s website at www.nationalassembly.gov.bz . See above for judicial decisions from the higher courts. Examples of key legislation passed in 2017 include:
- Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act;
- Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act;
- Income and Business Tax (Amendment) Act- excise duty on fuel products;
- Business Tax;
- National Payments System Act to establish a National Payment System;
- Moneylenders (Amendment) Act;
- Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (Amendment) Act;
- Stamp Duties (Amendment) Act raise duty to 1.75 percent;
- Statutory Bodies (Development Contribution).
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Belize does not have any laws governing competition, but there are attempts to limit outside competition in certain industries (such as food and agriculture) by levying high import duties.
Expropriation and Compensation
There have been several cases in which the government used eminent domain to appropriate private property, including land belonging to foreign investors. There were no new expropriation cases. However, there are allegations that several previous expropriations were done for personal or political gain. Belizean law requires that the government assess and compensate according to fair market value. These types of expropriation cases can take many years to settle and there are numerous cases where there was no compensation or compensation is still pending. In the cases of expropriations, the claimants affirm that the Government failed to adhere to agreements entered into by a previous administration.
The process to acquire land titles has issues with cases of private as well as government manipulation of land titles involving foreigners and Belizeans. Although the government recognizes this flaw, efforts at improving the land title system remain ongoing.
In late 2017, the Government of Belize made final payments for the nationalized Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) in line with a judgment issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The final settlement cost the government approximately USD 250 million and almost eight years of lengthy legal battles against the Ashcroft Alliance.
Since July 2015, the U.S. courts have upheld four arbitration judgments against the government including one related to the BTL nationalization. The Government of Belize has chosen to ignore these judgments holding the view that enforcement actions need to proceed through Belizean courts and should be appealed up to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) was extended to Belize by an act of the United Kingdom when Belize was a colony. After independence, Belize did not ratify the Convention nor is it listed as a contracting state. Nevertheless, arbitration is governed by the Arbitration Act (Chapter 125) of the Laws of Belize. Part IV of the Arbitration Act specifically addresses the New York Convention and empowers domestic courts to enforce awards under the Convention. A 2013 judgment of the Caribbean Court of Justice restored Part IV of the Arbitration Act for the enforcement of arbitral awards.
Belize signed on to but has not yet ratified the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID convention). For more information visit: http://sice.oas.org/dispute/comarb/icsid/w_conv1.asp .
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Please see Section 2 above- Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Agreements.
Belize is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy as well as a party to a regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union (EU). Both these regional arrangements make provisions for the settlement of investor-state disputes.
Since Belize is not a party to any Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, investment disputes involving U.S. persons are taken either before the courts or before international arbitration panels.
Local courts would recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government but these would likely be adjudicated to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Belize’s highest appellate court.
There has not been a history of extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Belize’s Arbitration Act allows the Supreme Court of Belize to support and supervise dispute settlement between private parties by arbitration. In 2013, the Supreme Court introduced the process of court-connected mediation as an alternative method to dispute settlement between private parties and as a means of reducing costs and duration of litigation.
There are numerous instances of cases involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which went before domestic courts with ruling both in favor and against the SOE.
In January 2017, the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act and the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act were passed which affect the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards against the government. Essentially, the Crown Proceedings Amendment Act provides that if a foreign judgment is entered against the government and later declared as “unlawful, void or otherwise invalid” by a court in Belize, the foreign judgement would not be enforced in or outside Belize. The Act also provides for hefty penalties of fines and or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, seeking to enforce the foreign judgment. The Central Bank (International Immunities) Act restates the immunity of the Central Bank of Belize assets “from legal proceedings in other states.” The Central Bank International Immunities Act similarly provides for penalties of fines and/or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, which initiates any such proceedings.
Chapter 244 of the Laws of Belize (Bankruptcy Act) provides and allows for bankruptcy filings. The Act provides for the establishment of receivership, trustees, adjudication and seizures of the property of the bankrupt. The court may order the arrest of the debtor and seizure of assets and documents in the event the debtor will flee or avoid payment to creditors. The Act also provides for imprisonment on conviction of certain specified offenses. The Director of Public Prosecutions may also institute prosecution proceedings for offenses emanating or related to the bankruptcy proceedings.