Belize - 1-Openness to, & Restrictions Upon, Foreign InvestmentBelize - 1-Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
While the Government of Belize is interested in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), certain regulatory requirements serve to impede growth and transparency.
There are no laws that explicitly discriminate against foreign investors. In practice, however, investors complain that they do not always receive the full extent of the incentives available, that land titles are not always reliably secure, and that bureaucratic delays or corruption can be hindrances to starting a business in Belize. There is a sense among investors that incentives are administered in an ad hoc manner, with frequent delays or payments not issued as originally guaranteed.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Belize's attractiveness to foreign investors could be improved by reducing the cost of doing business, particularly the costs of inputs (energy, transportation and telecommunications), and combating crime.
The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE), a statutory body of the Government of Belize, is the investment and export promotion agency. BELTRAIDE promotes FDI through various types of incentive packages and identified priority sectors for investment as agriculture, agro-processing, aquaculture, light manufacturing, food processing and packaging, tourism and tourism-related industries, business process outsourcing (BPOs), and renewable energy.
The Government created the Economic Development Council to increase the national dialogue on private sector development to better inform policies for growth and development. The Government’s Cabinet has also created a Sub–Committee for investment composed of Ministers whose portfolios are directly involved in considering and approving investment proposals.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the Central Bank of Belize (CBB).
There are some investment incentives which show preference to Belizean-owned companies. For example, the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Fiscal Incentive, offered by BELTRAIDE, stipulates that an entity applying for benefits under the SME incentive must have a minimum of 51 percent Belizean ownership. If this condition is met, the incentive provides for a lower application fee structure.
According to the Belize Tourism Board (http://www.travelbelize.org/btb), a company must have a minimum of 51percent Belizean ownership to qualify for a Tour Operator License. This qualification is negotiable particularly in the event a tour operation would expand into a new sector of the market and does not result in competition with local operators.
Foreign investments in Belize must be registered at the CBB in order to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency during transactions, including transfers, and repatriation of profits and dividends. Foreign investors must notify the CBB and register their inflow of funds to obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment. These “Approved Status” investments will ordinarily be granted approval for repatriation of funds from profits, dividends, loan payments and interest. The Central Bank does, however, reserve the right to request evidence supporting applications for repatriation, and anecdotal evidence suggests that delays in approval of the transfer of funds are making it harder for foreign investors to operate.
Additionally, persons seeking to open a bank account must also comply with Central Bank regulations, which differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account.
In late 2016, stakeholders involved in real estate transactions began to complain that the Lands Department started stricter enforcement of existing CBB regulations requiring real estate transactions between residents and non-residents to be conducted in Belize dollars. This effectively delayed the issuance of processing land transfers.
GoB’s Cabinet Sub-Committee on Investment considers investment projects which do not fall within Belize’s incentive regime or which may require special considerations. For example, an investment may require legislative changes, a customized memorandum of understanding or agreement from the government, or a public–private partnership. Proposals are generally assessed on the basis of size, scope, and subsidy requested. In addition, proposals are assessed on a five point system that analyses socio-economic acceptability of the project, revenues to the government, employment, foreign exchange earnings and environmental considerations. The Cabinet Sub-Committee is composed of five Cabinet-level officials of Government including the Minister with responsibility over Investment, Trade and Commerce as Chairperson The other members include the Ministers with responsibility for Tourism and Culture; the Environment and Sustainable Development; and Natural Resources and Immigration, along with the Attorney General. There is no set timeframe for considering projects as this would largely depend on the nature and complexity of the project. In 2016, BELTRAIDE introduced the Belize Investment Portfolio as a tool to try to match investment needs and opportunities with incoming investment.
When considering investment, foreign investors undertaking large capital investments must be aware of Belize's environmental laws and regulations. There is a requirement to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) when a project meets certain land area, location, and/or industry criteria. When purchasing land or planning to develop in or near an ecologically sensitive zone, it is recommended that the EIA fully address any measures by the investor to mitigate environmental risks. Environmental clearance must be obtained prior to the start of site development. The Department of Environment website, has more information on the Environmental Protection Act and other regulations, applications and guidelines.
The Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals both ruled that lands in the southern Belize district of Toledo are subject to some degree of indigenous, communal rights of the Mayan community. The courts ruled that the Government of Belize needs to consult with the Mayan community on development that affects communal land.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In the past three years, there has been no investment policy review of Belize by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO) or United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The Belize Companies Corporate Affairs Registry (tel: (501) 822 0421; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website) is responsible for the registration process of all business, companies, and non-profit organizations in Belize.
Businesses must register with the tax department to pay business and general sales tax. They must also register with their local city council or town board to obtain a trade license to operate a business. An employer should also register employees for Social Security. The 2017 Doing Business report estimates it takes 43 days to start up a company in Belize. The same report ranks Belize at 112 of 190 economies on the ease of starting a business.
Belize also has offshore business services legislation which allows offshore banking, and the establishment of International Business Companies (IBCs) and trusts. For more information on Belize’s offshore financial sector visit the International Financial Services Commission Belize website.
BELTRAIDE, 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.
The government does not promote or incentivize outward investments. The government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. The Central Bank places currency controls that limit foreign currency outflows.Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting http://export.gov/usoffices.
Belize Economic Development and Investment Law