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Gas Companies Triumph in Appeal to Import Liquefied Petroleum into Belize

Five years after the enactment of the National Liquefied Gas Project Act, which established a monopoly in Belize's liquefied petroleum market, three gas companies have achieved a significant legal victory. This week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the 2019 Act violated the rights of these companies, thereby nullifying it and reinstating their right to import butane.

The ruling benefits Gas Tomza Limited, Western Gas Company Limited, and Southern Choice Butane—longtime importers of liquefied petroleum in Belize prior to the nationalization of the National Gas Company in 2019.

Their attorney, Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, stated that the court found the Act, amended in 2021, to be in breach of his clients' rights to property and to work.

Smith highlighted that a crucial point in the court's decision was the government's requirement for any business wishing to import LPG to own a storage facility with a capacity of at least 1.5 million U.S. gallons of petroleum. "Clearly the argument was impractical, impossible, and can't be reached and it effectively stymies your right to work, your right to freely be an importer of LPG," said Smith, explaining the court's agreement with this stance. "So, as it stands, based on our interpretation of the judgment, Gas Tomza and the other litigants would now be free to build storage capacity within their economic means and apply for permission to import LPG," he added.

While the government retains the authority to approve or deny import permits, it also scored a minor victory when the court deemed the $10 million awarded by the high court to the three gas companies as excessive, calling for a reassessment.

Smith noted that although the gas companies argued that other fundamental rights were breached, such as the right to freedom of association and equality under the law, the court did not find evidence supporting these claims. Consequently, the judgment was remanded to the High Court for reassessment.

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