Belize is an exotic country tucked away on the North East coast of Central America. Mexico is immediately to its North, Guatemala to the South and West and the Caribbean Sea to the East.

It has an area of 22,923 sq km, a population of 216,000 and density of 9 persons per sq km. Roughly 48% of the population lives in urban areas with Belize City, as the major commercial centre having almost a third of the population living there.

Belize is ethnically diverse including Afro Latino, Garinagu, East Indian descendants of the Mayan Culture, Europeans and Asians. English is the official language but Spanish and Creole are widely spoken. The literacy rate is over 90%. The climate is sub-tropical with an average temperature of 29 C and an annual rainy season between June and November.

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, adopted its present name in 1973. It became an independent state on the 21st September, 1981 under the British Commonwealth and is a member of Caricom and the Organization of American States (OAS). The Laws of Belize are derived from English Common Law supplemented by local legislation. The political system is based on the British Westminister model with Queen Elizabeth II being head of State and represented by a Belizean Governor General. The court system is also similar to that of England and contracts of commercial law are based on the English law model.

Executive authority is exercised by the Cabinet under the leadership of the Prime Minister who heads the party with the majority in the 29 member House of Representatives. These representatives are democratically elected every five years by universal adult suffrage. There is also an eight member senate with the majority appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

There are two main political parties in Belize - the United Democratic Party, presently governing, and the People's United Party - now in opposition. Both parties have indicated in their manifesto that they are committed to the economic development of Belize and the Offshore Finance Industry.

The Local currency is the Belize dollar, tied to the US dollar in a fixed exchange rate of BZ $2 = US $1. Four Commercial Banks currently conduct business in Belize - The Atlantic Bank Ltd, Barclays Bank PLC, The Belize Bank Limited and the Bank of Nova Scotia. They are all regulated by the Central Bank of Belize in accordance with the provision of the Banking Act. Two new Banks, one from New Orleans and the other from El Salvador, are presently applying for a Banking Licence to operate in Belize. Others are soon to follow.

The Philip Goldson International Airport near Belize City provides a daily service through which five international carriers link Belize to the US and Central America. Telephone, telex and telefax communication are excellent. Other features including direct dialing, E-mail and Internet are available and widely used. The nation is fully up to date with the latest in communications technology.

It was understood for some time that the economic growth and development of Belize could best be achieved by a partnership between the public and private sectors. New economic development strategies had to be developed, after foreseeing the negative influence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (N.A.F.T.A.) signed between the United States, Canada and Mexico. NAFTA would have caused some of Belize's preferential trading arrangements for exports to slip away.

It was Belize's need to compete more effectively on the world market along with other factors, which prompted the formation of new policies to boost the country's economy.

The Registration of Merchant Ships Act was passed in 1989. Then 1990 saw the introduction of the International Business Companies Act. The Estate Duty Act was repealed by Act 11 of 1991 thereby abolishing estate duty on assets of persons who died after 1st April, 1991. The Trust Act came into force in 1992. With the enactment of this legislation Belize entered the offshore world and is today distinguishing itself as one of the most favourable jurisdictions from which to operate your offshore financial business.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.