TRADE ENVOY FOR BELIZE
For the past several years, I have had the pleasure of attending events with the lovely and gracious Leondria Thompson. One can not help but be impressed with her seemingly tireless energy and her enthusiasm for the work she is doing on many fronts in Belize. Today I am able to share with you our recent meeting and interview.
Heidi PP: First, tell us about yourself and walk us through your background.
Ms. Thompson: I am a native Houstonian. I attended Prairie View A&M College. Having been trained within many companies in Houston, I learned about business and trade on the job. I have 3 daughters, 14 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren. My international trade experience began with serving on two (2) Houston Mayor’s Department of International Trade & Affairs Committees since 2006 and working as the Chair Elect of the Central & South American and Caribbean Committee under former Mayor Annise Parker. In 2009, I was appointed Special Trade and Investment Envoy under the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the government of Belize. As a result, I have had the pleasure of leading more than 30 trade missions to Belize.
Heidi PP: That sounds wonderful, Belize is an amazing place and I am sure it is a lot of work. Our readers may not know what a trade envoy does. Can you explain what a Trade Envoy in your capacity does?
Ms. Thompson: My role as a Trade Envoy with the Government of Belize is voluntary and falls under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through which I am committed to strengthening trade ties between the U.S. and Belize and to promoting foreign direct investments into Belize.
Heidi PP: You have assumed a challenging position and a lot of responsibility. Tell us about Belize and the trade opportunities for Houston businesses.
Ms. Thompson: The City of Houston is recognized as an international business and commerce region providing the environment whereby global trade and partnerships can be developed. The City of Houston and the country of Belize have fostered a climate of innovation and advancement. In both regions innovators foresaw a tremendous opportunity within the areas of energy, information technology, logistics, Life Sciences, environment, education, tourism, culture, and the Arts for small to medium business opportunities. The opportunities for growth in practically all areas of commerce are practically limitless.
Heidi PP: Yes. Our Mayor reminds us often that we are a leader in a global economy. What do you consider some past, present and future goals for Houston’s relationship with Belize?
Ms. Thompson: Former Mayors White and Parker previously signed Partners in Trade Agreements with Belize that opened channels for the exchange of common interests in the area of economic development and investments. The most significant aspect of the Partners in Trade Agreements was the opportunity to promote each other’s cities and develop activities and forums to promote bilateral cooperation between the cities of Belize and Houston. As Belize’s Special Trade Envoy, I have worked to insure that this activity has been and is being continued through organizing and coordinating International Trade Missions to Belize originating from Houston, Texas USA.
Heidi PP: I am sure that the business leaders in both Belize and Houston are grateful. Tell us about your perspective on ways that the U.S.-Belize cooperation may be advanced..
Ms. Thompson: The strengths and synergies between Houston and Belize can cultivate many successful and prosperous business relationships. Thus, a unique opportunity exists for Houston and Belize to harness and enhance collaborative and cooperative initiatives, both culturally and economically by trading directly with each other. Some of the reasons in favor of doing business in Belize are due to its unique location and its history. It is bordered by Mexico in the north, Guatemala in the west, and the Caribbean Sea in the east. So it is located in Central America. As a former English colony, Belize still has strong ties to the British. It has a hard-working, diverse, friendly, bilingual, and well-educated workforce that bolsters a thriving economy. In addition to this, Belize is a popular tourist destination for its year-round tropical climate and long coastline with a fabulous barrier reef. It has eco-friendly pristine natural resources and a rich soil. To make it even more attractive to the U.S., it is only a 2 to 4 hour flight from major cities and Belize has a stable currency fixed at a 2:1 ratio to the U.S.dollar. The government of Belize encourages business and retirement with incentive programs designed to make trade, working and living in Belize easy.
Heidi PP: I would say that this gem has been a well-kept secret. What are some big picture issues facing Belize today?
Ms. Thompson: A big one that follows the Pandemic is adjusting to regaining its tourism industry. That will also include job creation, training for a more skilled workforce, and promoting more business investments.
Heidi PP: How has the Pandemic affected Belize and its economy?
Ms. Thompson: The Belize tourist industry has been most seriously affected, which, in turn, affected the opportunity to earn income for employment in all facets of tourism.
Heidi PP: Is there anything we have not discussed that you would like to mention?
Ms. Thompson: I will just mention a few facts about Belize that your readers may not know.
Belize enjoys incentives under trade agreements with several developed countries. These include:
• Preferential market access to the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM)
• Preferential treatment from the USA under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI)
• Duty free access for certain commodities such as bananas and sugar under the Lome IV Convention
Belize provides three main elements sought by international investors:
• Stability: Long – standing, democratic tradition; independent judiciary; fixed exchange rate since 1976
• Profitability: Attractive fiscal incentives and concessions; Commercial Free Zones; Export Processing Zones; Repatriation of profits and dividends
• Livability: Subtropical climate, virgin rainforest, unspoiled beaches, spectacular barrier reef and friendly people
The Government offers a variety of incentives to attract investors:
• 100% foreign ownership of land and company assets
• Joint ventures with local entities
• Legislation for the provision of incentives for the retirement industry
• Flexible fiscal incentives and concessions
• Commercial Free Zones and Export Processing Zones
• Vibrant International Financial Services Industry
Heidi PP: It seems that all in all, Belize is one of our friendliest neighbors. I would like to thank you for spending time with me today and for all your hard work at promoting relationships between us and Belize. Please let us know how we may work with you in the future when we are once again able to travel freely.
Heidi PP- Editor in Chief, iF Magazine email@example.com
Leondria Thompson, Trade Envoy to Belize, Houstonblackchamber@gmail.com