Competing with Chetumal – Innovatively

Last week a few media houses reported on the fact that over the long weekend several thousand Belizeans chose to spend their free time and their hard-earned money in Mexico. The number, 12,607 departures, is almost six times more than the previous weekend, when 2,117 Belizeans went across the border.

The estimate of $100 per person was used to figure out how much was spent, in total, by the 12,000 Belizeans who went north, for a total of BZ $1.2 million. This was for one holiday weekend, and the estimates given are conservative. However, at least that much money, and probably more, left Belize and benefited another country’s development.

Now let us be clear that the point of this calculation is not to advocate for closure of the border. That would be short-sighted and ultimately—given the number of ‘unofficial’ crossings that exist—pointless. We’ll leave the wall-building to other countries.

Rather, we must look at what is causing everyone to cross the border in the first place. It’s time we took an entrepreneurial approach wherein we determine what is required in order to compete and to convince our dollars to remain at home. And when we recognize what is required, whether it be lower prices, better facilities and product offerings, more welcoming customer service, a safer and more secure environment, or all of the above, then we must work together as a people, including the private and public sectors, to make it possible for local businesses to compete.

Regardless of the reason Belizeans are shopping across the border, across any border, these are dollars lost to our own economy. The dollars spent there—or anywhere—are used to provide jobs, to pay taxes, to ensure that streets are cleaned, maintained and lit at night, and so on. If an employer isn’t selling his goods, he can’t give raises, and eventually, if business slows down enough, he starts to cut down on the number of employees he has. God forbid, but when business slows down to the point where bills can’t be paid, that’s one more business that disappears. If enough businesses disappear, the economy becomes unhealthy. And at this moment in time, our economy is not healthy.

The private sector has long been urging successive governments to carry out tax reform since high and complex taxation has played a prominent part in rendering our goods and services uncompetitive. While tax reform on its own will not entirely correct the problems that lead to Belizeans spending their income across the border, it is absolutely certain that those problems cannot be addressed without tax reform included as part of the solution. It is also absolutely certain that continuing to do nothing will only yield ever-higher numbers of cross-border shoppers, to the ongoing detriment of our own economy, jobs, and individual incomes.

Our entrepreneurs want to do business, our people want jobs, and we all want the economy to grow in a healthy, sustainable way. We must be able, if we cooperate constructively, to find solutions to move the economy forward. The border crossings remind us that we must find ways to become more competitive. Let’s find them and make it happen.

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