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Global Issue 15

The Long View global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 77 commonwealth network to challenge offshore drilling contracts issued by the government, which resulted in the judge criticising actions by the Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities. There are also oil reserves under parts of the rainforest, which, if exploited, will have human rights implications for the indigenous villages close by. However, oil production in Belize is important to the economy, so it is hard for the government to ignore new opportunities for drilling. It’s difficult to find a balance between economic and environmental considerations when it comes to oil exploitation, Barrow admits. “It’s difficult and sometimes the two seem irreconcilable but you’ve got to find a happy medium. I think it’s less problematic onshore than offshore. There’s been a huge campaign to get the government to agree to ban any offshore drilling. We’re not prepared to go that far, certainly not at the moment. But we do see where there needs to be exclusion zones, if you will. And the closer in you are to the reefs, the more obvious it is that you shouldn’t be working in these exclusion zones. We still need a lot of technical help on this, but we’re quite determined that there ought to be a regime put in place that will see that certain areas are off limits.” Two priorities for the government at the moment are education and attracting foreign investment. One in ten children don’t even complete primary school, according to 2009 figures. “Education is a huge priority for us,” says Barrow. “It’s 26 per cent of the national budget and takes up the bulk of social government spending. We’re trying to make education accessible, giving subsidies to first and second formers, improving teacher training, reviewing the curriculum and trying to jiggle the formula for how we finance schools.” His UK visit has included a trip to Tate and Lyle’s sugar refinery on the Thames in London. “That was very good, very impressive. We were lucky because a ship with Belize sugar had just arrived, so I was able to see Belize sugar being unloaded. They took me to see pyramids of sugar piled up to the ceiling and they were able to distinguish Belize sugar from Brazilian sugar.” He also attended a lunch in the City of London to meet investors who may be interested in working with Belize. The Belizean economy grew by 5.3 per cent during 2012, a big improvement on the 1.9 per cent recorded for 2011. Barrow is hoping to see it expand by three to four per cent this year. “We want to double the export market,” he says. “Tourism is also growing in leaps and bounds and we make a fair bit from oil extraction – production is increasing. There’s been another find, but we still need to do all the appraisal work.” His meeting with the royals is still to come in this whistle-stop tour. Will he be discussing anything in particular? “With the Queen it’s always a privilege and an honour,” he says. “She’s head of the Commonwealth and Queen of Belize – we’re still very much a monarchy. It’s a de rigeuer kind of visit and one that I quite look forward to.” With that, Barrow leaves to take a rare night off in his busy schedule. CHOGM helps small countries, such as Belize, to have a voice on the world stage There’s been a huge campaign to get the government to agree to ban any offshore drilling. We’re not prepared to go that far, certainly not at the moment


Global Issue 15
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