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Sugar Cane crop off to a full start!

Posted: Friday, January 5, 2024. 11:25 am CST.

Statement by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise

After days of tense negotiations and back and forth between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association and American Sugar Refineries/ Belize Sugar Industries, it seems the 2023/24 sugar cane crop will be on its way to having a full start.

The start of crop had been delayed by an impasse between the two parties, with the BSCFA representing the majority of cane farmers delivering cane to the mill and BSI belonging to the ASR family of sugar millers and refiners. Today that impasse was resolved as Prime Minister John Briceño participated in negotiations between the two parties and finally an agreement acceptable to both parties seems to have been arrived at. BSI is in agreement with the compromise, while the BSCFA membership accepted the terms of the compromise with a jubilant unanimous majority vote for a resolution agreeing with the terms.

The main sticking points included the duration of the commercial agreement to deliver cane; BSCFA wanted shorter terms of 1 year with 2 years maximum while BSI insisted on 4 years because that term “will help to bring stability and encourage investment”. Another sticking point was BSCFA’s insisting that their Fairtrade premiums need to be paid for the 2 years they have been absent; BSI’s answer was that Tate and Lyle Sugars (TLS), another ASR company, paid those premiums and that BSI was not involved; BSCFA should negotiate with TLS if it wanted those premiums paid.

A third sticking point was the inclusion of costs related to transporting and loading sugar at the port; BSI calls these ocean freight and throughput costs and insisted that they be included in any new agreement, while BSCFA contended that cane farmers pay 65% of costs already under existing agreements and any new costs were unfair.

Minister Jose Abelardo Mai and the sugar technical team have been back and forth between both parties as negotiations started about 3 weeks ago in anticipation of the start of the cane crop season, trying to ensure that the miller and its investors received fair terms while also ensuring sugar cane farmers and their investments were protected. Finally, today there has been a breakthrough after days of tension which have been well documented by media houses in Belize.

Essentially the compromise includes the following points:

  1. The new commercial agreement will be signed for 2 years, not 4;
  2. GoB will support the BSCFA Fairtrade process with TLS and if the BSCFA does not get Fairtrade this year, GOB will provide 1 million Bze dollars to the BSCFA for fertilizers;
  3. The parties agreed to have an economic analysis of transportation and shipping at the Big Creek Port versus the Port of Belize conducted. This work will be completed within 3 months and the recommendations will determine whether the new port charges are justified or not and should remain in the agreement.
  4. The work of the Commission of Inquiry will start within 30 days.

The compromise provides a release of the pent up frustrations on all sides, with the season now free to start so the mill and farmers can get under way with the harvest.

While for the cane farmers the compromise is a victory worth celebrating, for PM Briceño, Minister Mai and the MAFSE sugar technical team and Area Reps of the Northern Caucus it means ongoing work continues to assure the success of sugar as a significant contributor to GDP and the economy of the country. On its own, sugar represents almost 34% of primary sector export earnings, while its impact on employment and income generation are far reaching for the North of Belize.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise continues the work of ensuring our export crops and farmers, the lifeblood of our population’s economic engine, get their rightful place and share.

 

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