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Drought lands “major blow,” but CARICOM and Belize sugar will be protected

Posted: Monday, October 7, 2019. 10:52 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Last week key sectors of agriculture and aquaculture along with trade from across the Caribbean met in Belize simultaneously for a full week.

Sugar stakeholders met to consider how to protect plantation white and brown sugar from invading market forces which have taken advantage of lax tariffs to undercut producers.

But here in Belize, B.S.I. Director, Mac McLachlan, told the media that the ongoing drought is causing a major blow in the industry.

There are no formal estimates as of yet but, he told us, he considers it “inevitable” that there will not be the same size of crop as in the last two record years of production. But ASR/BSI has been working with farmers and authorities to combat the upcoming issues.

“This year, I know that the cane is stressed, very stressed. It’s had a lot of difficulties because of a lack of water and I think, you know, we as an industry, farmers, ourselves, we have to come together. We have to look at the best mitigation we can make for that to ensure this doesn’t have effects beyond this year into the next few years. We are looking at climate smart solutions to some of the problems we have. We’ve got major proposals with the five C’s at the moment, the green climate fund to try and bring assistance. Now this is needed anyway. It’s needed because of the impact of climate change on a rain fed crop that we have in Belize. So we need to look at a lot of different solutions. They are not going to come overnight. We need to look at water management. We need to different types of varieties that are going to perform better in more volatile weather conditions,” Maclachlan said. The next sugar crop is expected to commence in December.

Meanwhile, on the back of a study that shows regional plantation white sugar is conditioned to be used in manufacturing products – and in the case of Belize and Bowen and Bowen Limited, already is for the likes of Coca-Cola and related products – agriculture and trade ministers are to further discuss protections for the industry.

At Friday’s close of the Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED), Belize’s Agriculture Minister Godwin Hulse explained, “The recommendations are basically three; one is to ensure that brown sugar, which is already CET protected continues to be protected within the region. There are some allegations of leakages and we didn’t get into that in detail but it is to ensure that brown sugar continues to be sold in the region because there is really no reason to buy brown sugar from outside the region outside of the price, must pay the duties.  The other aspect was a monitoring mechanism, some mechanism to be developed to monitor this process and ensure compliance. But the more important one is to ‘include refined white sugar on the commodities list for ineligible conditional duty exemption.’ It is a long statement, but it simply means it is not an automatic waiver you will need to apply if you wanted to get refined white sugar and that is the issue around which this whole thing turns. The good thing is we got it on this meeting and the issue moves forward now to the COTED meeting in November at which time the ministers there will take a final decision.”


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