Belize seeks to diversify, add value to seafood exports

13 December 2019

UNCTAD helps craft a strategy to reduce the country's reliance on basic fishery commodities and move up the value chain.

Belize has exported seafood commodities such as spiny lobster and conch for decades. In 2018, it racked up US$18.6 million in fishery exports.

Now the country is casting its net wider as it embarks on sustainable export expansion, diversification and value addition, with an emphasis on the oceans or blue economy.

In doing so, Belize is developing an oceans economy and trade strategy under the oceans economy and trade strategies project implemented by UNCTAD and United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS), in cooperation with the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The project aims to support developing countries to reap economic benefits from the sustainable use of their marine resources.

“There are trade opportunities in diversifying seafood species and exports, in increasing value addition, especially through services and technology, and in expanding domestic, tourism and international markets,” said David Vivas Eugui, an UNCTAD legal officer working on the project. 

Supporting coastal livelihoods

Belize’s fisheries and seafood processing sectors support over 2,500 people who fish for a living and 15,000 subsidiary workers, according to research by UNCTAD and DOALOS.

In the past 10 years, the country has seen a steady catch of spiny lobster and queen conch, now classified as mature fisheries, and its deep-sea fishing holds great commercial potential.

Also, prices for both lobster and conch have increased over the last five years, heralding opportunities for value addition and use of low-value parts and waste generated from cleaning and pre-processing for exports in circular economic circuits.

“We need further investment and export promotion,” said Richard Reid, a senior trade economist of the Directorate General for Foreign Trade in Belize.

He said the project would help the country reduce its reliance on basic fishery commodities as it focuses on moving up the value chain.

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Oceans and economy trade strategy

Over 40 representatives of the government, fisheries cooperatives and processors, civil society organizations and other development partners discussed and validated the oceans and economy trade strategy for Belize at a project workshop held in the capital, Belize City, on 4 and 5 December.

“This unique strategy will promote the sustainable trade of products and services derived from the ocean,” said Rigoberto Quintana, a senior fisheries officer at the country’s agriculture ministry.

Participants at the workshop said the strategy would help unleash the underutilized potential of lobster and conch species, finfish exploitation and seafood processing.

Implementing the strategy would yield other benefits, including increasing the capacity of stakeholders in ocean-based economic sectors by creating an enabling environment for research and development.

In addition, it would enhance economic resilience through the diversification of fisheries and seafood production by identifying opportunities for market access.

It would also lead to overall sustainable economic growth in ocean-based economic sectors, thus improving livelihoods of those involved directly in the ocean economy.

Further, it would boost the production of high-quality marine products through value added options and bolster synergies with ongoing projects, national plans, strategies, and policies of Belize.

“It would also help Belize strengthen its implementation of relevant international legal instruments and contribute to achieving the ocean-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Michele Ameri, a legal officer at DOALOS.

Required actions

The stakeholders at the workshop also identified actions required to realize the strategy’s benefits.

They include the potential use of tariffs and other legal trade measures to avoid unfair competition against locally produced marine fin fish products.

They could also embark on seeking lending institutions to open credit lines that are affordable to fisherfolk, particularly women and the youth; conducting deep sea stock assessment and increasing capacities for data collection and management.

Other actions are implementing appropriate sanitary standards and food handling for fish markets and stands; mapping of distribution channel and develop strategy to readily supply marine finfish to hotels and restaurants; and conducting market studies to identify niche markets of value-added fishery products.

“We see great potential in lobster conch and fin fish sectors. However, they should not be supported in isolation, as they will continue to interact with other important sectors such as tourism,” said Hilary Enos-Edu of the Commonwealth Secretariat. 

Following the workshop, more stakeholders will provide their inputs for the strategy, expected to be considered by relevant government ministries by the end of the year.