Posted: Friday, March 3, 2023. 1:37 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: A sudden new front in the civil war in the sugar industry has opened up over the price of brown sugar.
Earlier this week, the Corozal and Progressive Sugar Cane Farmers Associations sent a joint letter asking for price increases in both brown and plantation white sugar, currently sold at controlled prices of 39 and 75 cents respectively (brown sugar typically retails for 50 cents per pound).
On Thursday, miller Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI/ASR) forwarded a letter it sent to the Prime Minister nearly a month ago making a formal request to raise the controlled price of brown sugar only. According to Vice-President and Country Manager Mac Maclachlan, the controlled price is the lowest in the region and has not been increased in price for more than two decades despite average inflation rising by over 35 percent in the same period. Retail prices for other basic food items (which are not controlled), are currently more than three times the controlled price for both brown and plantation white sugar.
BSI/ASR further writes that risk has been increased for illegal exports of brown sugar to Mexico and Guatemala, which buy them at far higher costs for re-export. BSI produces annually around 3,500 metric tons of brown sugar for the domestic market. Split on a per capita basis based on the current population of 440,000 Belizeans, the price increase from 39 cents/lb to 65 cents/lb will result in a per capita increase for a family of four (4) of BZ$18.53 per annum which it says is negligible.
But the BSCFA, currently engaged in a commercial dispute with the miller, called the idea a “distraction” meant to draw attention off the continued lack of fairness in prices from BSI/ASR and Tate and Lyle to farmers, and that this would bring further revenue to the producers of the country’s most significant export.
In the end, the Prime Minister does not appear convinced, telling reporters on Wednesday, “The argument could be made that yes, it is deserving but also, we can make an argument that the taxpayers are helping with the fuel subsidy that we give to be able to keep down the cost of their operations. So they are giving up something, the taxpayers of Belize are also giving something. Now mind you I am also a cane farmer so it would be in my interest if it were to go up but that is not what I, we are all about. We have to look at the bigger picture and that is what steps can we take to try and hold down the cost of living on all our citizens.”
BSI/ASR plans to address the issue further later today in a press briefing.
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