Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2023. 7:31 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai has been defending the Government’s decision to update regulations that will outline how exporters and importers of sugars will be licensed.
“What we are seeking is disclosure,” Mai told reporters on Wednesday, tracing the roots of the dispute to the revelation that BSI/ASR has allegedly been withholding to whom it had been selling sugar and particularly how much it was selling as Fairtrade sugar, from which the cane farmers’ associations receive premiums. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA) in particular have been complaining that for the past two years they have not been receiving Fairtrade premiums.
Appearing on LOVE FM on Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture’s Director of Projects and member of the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB), Jose Novelo, indicated that the regulations will ensure BSI/ASR disclose information as to the contracts they have signed with buyers including Tate and Lyle.
Controller of Supplies Lennox Nicholson reminded that the 2001 Sugar Industry Act requires licensing of operators and the regulations give effect to what the parent act says must be done – “we are doing what the law tells us we must be doing.” Previously, Nicholson said, his office was in charge of export and import licensing for sugar, but these regulations integrate this function with the SICB, which already manages most aspects of the industry. It also puts a check on his office’s powers of allowance for import and export and provides a consultative role for the SICB.
The Minister further indicated that all exporters including BSI/ASR and Santander come under the new regulations and therefore it is not “discriminatory” in the claim of the former. According to Nicholson, there are actually five entities classified as exporters but the latter three actually buy product from the former two, who are the sole producers in Belize, and export it.
But BSI/ASR maintains that they are the elephant in the room as far as the Government is concerned, and its Director of Finance Shawn Chavarria pinpointed to reporters what they feel Belmopan is really after: “It’s more to do into getting into the private commercial affairs of BSI and in particular, I think this was signaled already that government wants to find a way to get the Fairtrade funds paid to the BSCFA. And in a sense, this is an attempt to do that; to force a S.I. to collect and received fairtrade premium because that is a specific clause in the legislation. And we have tried to point out that it is not going to work because at the end of the day, BSI is not the party that pays the premium. It is the buyer of the sugar who markets and sells Fairtrade sugar ultimately in these markets that pays the premium. And so the legislation cannot compel third party organization to do something that is not part of their business practice.”
There were suggestions that proper consultation did not take place but Nicholson refuted this, saying that the Minister was removed from the power to issue the operator’s license annually and this has been delegated to the SICB.
BSI/ASR has not yet determined whether it will legally challenge the regulations which goes to the House of Representatives on Friday.
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