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Sugar shortage continues to affect Belizean consumers; contraband to Guatemala, Mexico to blame

Posted: Thursday, December 7, 2023. 11:38 am CST.

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: Sugar shelves at stores continue being empty and when sugar does come into the stores, many are rationing the supply limiting the number of pounds sold to customers.

A run through Belize City Ladyville stores in search of brown sugar a couple of weeks ago proved futile. Only white sugar, and in limited amounts, was available. A few days later, not even white sugar could be found.

And the situation continues with empty sugar shelves in the stores at a time when Belizean consumers need so much more sugar because of all the Christmas and New Year’s cake-baking.

While no distributor will admit to selling sugar to Guatemalan and Mexican buyers, who reportedly pay double, the Belize Sugar Industries, the Belize Industry Sugar Control Board, and Agriculture Minister Jose Abelardo Mai have said that the smuggling of sugar to the neigbouring countries is what is causing the shortage in the stores.

Chairman of the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) Marcos Osorio said approximately 15,000 tons of sugar (12,000 of plantation white sugar and 3,000 tons of brown sugar), are allotted for the Belize market annually and that amount should be enough to supply the demand by Belizean consumers. Osorio contends that heavy selling through the blind spots along Belize’s borders with the neighbouring countries is pulling the sugar away from the stores shelves in Belize.

“What is happening is that the volume of sugar that is moved on a monthly basis for the local market, part or a significant part of that sugar is finding its way into Guatemala mostly,” Osorio told Breaking Belize News.

“We also know that some is moving into Mexico because prices across the border in Guatemala and Mexico are far much higher than the prices we have in Belize for our local sugar.

“The distributors or those that have the concessions to buy the sugar from BSI and distribute it across the country, they are doing so but somehow that sugar is finding its way into Guatemala and Mexico. That then creates a shortage or a scarcity of supply on the shelves of the businesses.”

In a letter to Prime Minister John Briceño dated February 8, 2023, asking for sugar price increases, Mac McLachlan, Vice President and Belize Country Manager for BSI/ASR said contraband is the reason for the local sugar shortage.

“Belizean brown sugar is being exported unofficially into regional markets such as Mexico and Guatemala where brown sugar attracts a price of BZ$1.10/lb and BZ$80 cents/lb respectively,” McLachlan wrote.

“I believe it is unfair for the cane farmer to be subsidizing the Guatemalans and the Mexicans,”  Minister Mai said in agreeing that sugar price increases might be the answer to stop smuggling of sugar to Guatemala and Mexico.

“We have heard the complaints from the different store owners and from the public in general that there is a scarcity or unavailable sugar in the stores. I think scarcity is not the appropriate term, because there is no scarcity according to BSI.”

Minister Mai said BSI should know who is selling to Guatemala and Mexico because they control the volume of sale to distributors.

“Remember that BSI is the only company that sells sugar in the country locally,” Mai said.

“It’s not the Government who chooses the wholesaler. BSI chooses who they want to sell to. I don’t know what criteria they use but they are the ones who choose their wholesalers.”

belize sugar cane

Mai said Belize’s sugar is the cheapest in the region making it attractive to Guatemalan and Mexican buyers to the detriment of the Belize sugar industry and the Belizean consumers.

“So, if they are a wholesaler and they get 100 sacks of sugar, and if they have to sell that sugar for a maximum price, but there is a controlled price, and somebody comes from Guatemala and offers you $15 more for the sack of that sugar, obviously, the sugar will go to that person and that person will see how he or she takes the sugar across to Guatemala or to Mexico,” Mai said.

“I’ve seen images of sugar in BSI sacks being crossed into Guatemala. It just shows you that we are selling sugar at a very low price. The industry suffers. In other words, the farmers or this industry is subsidizing the Guatemalans,” the Agriculture Minister said.

“The price for sugar in Guatemala is three times the price in Belize and in Mexico it’s the same.”

Mai said that with world sugar production suffering a 30% drop, Guatemala and Mexico have a lower amount of sugar for their local markets and they will look elsewhere to meet their needs.

“Obviously they had a shortage and an urgency for sugar, and they look at Belize as the cheapest source of sugar and so, ‘let’s go for it’? Who to blame?

“We have to accept fault for that.”


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