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Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) maintains it has acted in good faith, condemns ‘illegal’ blockade

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Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2021. 8:57 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI/ASR) has come out after hours of silence to tell its side of why there is not an interim agreement and a continued blockade of its Tower Hill factory.

The company contends that the blockade is illegal as it prevents all cane farmers, including those of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) from delivering cane, risking the approximately 10 percent higher first price estimate and associated benefits. The longer the blockade goes, the more cane in the ground loses its value. As BSI reminds, the BSCFA unilaterally ended its commercial agreement with the factory which remains in effect through January 19, 2022.

And the millers say they will not be intimidated by threats of violence and pressure, saying this will damage credibility and question the viability of the mill, which also caters to other sugar associations.

BSI warns, “The BSCFA action leaves stakeholders with little assurances of good faith on the part of the association leaders as to its intentions for this crop, or any forthcoming negotiation with BSI on a new commercial agreement. BSI reiterates however that it is disposed to engage constructively in this process provided both sides show good faith. It is difficult to see a way forward until the mill is liberated and tensions ease. BSI is grateful for the intervention of the Prime Minister to try to unblock the mill and encourage a more sensible process. For its part BSI remains disposed to collaborate on a sensible and constructive way forward, free of duress and intimidation.”

BSI’s timeline of events show it had agreed to the terms set out by Prime Minister John Briceño on December 23 to extend the commercial agreement ad interim to April 30. The extension would be signed before January 19 but go into immediate effect as all commercial agreements, including that of the BSCFA, remain valid.

According to BSI/ASR, milling began at 10:30 a.m. Monday and proceeded until cane ran out at midday Tuesday, when BSCFA members were supposed to start delivering. There was no notice, only word through Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) Chairman Marcos Osorio that their members were running half an hour late. Also that day, BSI said it wrote the BSCFA confirming its agreement to extend the commercial agreement, only to be told that the BSCFA wanted the agreement extended to August 1, to accommodate its farmers. BSI said it held the BSCFA to the terms already agreed and that contrary to reports it had not reneged on signing an agreement that day as there was never any agreement to do so. That evening, Chairman Osorio informed BSI/ASR that the BSCFA would not be delivering.

The blockade began around five in the evening after a meeting between Government representatives from the north and the BSCFA leadership and BSI began shutting down operations.

On Wednesday, the parties agreed to a 24-hour media blackout to work on the agreement, which other parties effectively ignored. According to BSI, it considered the Prime Minister’s revised proposal to include a provision for a further extension to the 30 April, 2022 deadline if an agreement is not reached by then provided both parties were following good faith negotiations, and requested that the blockade be removed, but members on the ground refused, demanding that the agreement be signed then and there.

As for today, Thursday, BSI declared it “false” that an interim agreement would be signed early today and says it has been threatened if such an agreement is not signed. Officially, it says, “no agreement has been presented in legal form for review and discussion with our attorneys and leadership,” and that its previous proposals to BSCFA as part of its negotiations have been rejected.

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