Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2022. 11:06 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: It is not quite panic time in the North, but with a month to go before the expected start of crop, there doesn’t even appear to be a way forward on the matter of mediation of the commercial agreement dispute between Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI/ASR) and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA).
On Wednesday while participating in assisting with the post-Hurricane Lisa clean-up in the Old Capital, chairman of the Orange Walk Branch of the Association and outspoken cañero Alfredo Ortega opined that the miller has been dragging their foot on agreeing to a mediator and trying to frustrate cañeros: “It is something that we want to be very clear that we are looking for better benefits to the farmers the same way they are looking for benefits on their side that is the same way we are looking for farmers to get more benefits for what they are doing. … That is why we have been pushing that we want to finalize this negation with BSI so that we can clearly know what terms we will be starting the next crop. But, BSI has been dragging its foot because they want to make the farmers get desperate and we are pushed to sign what they want. And what they [want], it only helps them not the farmers.”
He added that repeated correspondence has not obtained a response from Tower Hill.
Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Jose Mai was more optimistic about an appointment but still warned that the timing to ink an agreement before crop starts is limited, so another interim agreement may have to be put in place. But he added, “The crop can commence with an interim agreement and the crop can be ongoing while the mediation and negotiation are also ongoing. So, it is not like we have to stop doing this because we are doing this. Once there is good faith on both sides we can continue.”
But agreement or no, he continued, there will be no delay with the start of crop as there has been for the past few years owing to a multiplicity of factors.
Ortega reminded that farmers are asking for a straight 60 to 40 split on gross revenue rather than the current 65 to 35 arrangement on net stripped value, in which expenses are calculated first before the remaining profit is shared. He also stated that the government cannot avoid intervening because of the importance of the industry to the north – and to the political fortunes of the ruling government, though this was left unsaid.
BSI/ASR has announced a rebuttal Zoom press conference for this afternoon and we will bring you details of that when it happens.
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