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Alpuche: Guyanese Rice – An Opportunistic Importaion

Last Friday we told you of the rice issue where businessman, Jack Charles is in the process of importing the grain from Guyana, saying it would cost consumers less money than the locally produced rice.  COLA had issued their statement, agreeing to the move, saying that it is about what the consumers can afford while the Belize Agro-Productive Sector Group in a release they sent out on Friday is asking why Charles doesn’t invest in the existing local rice sector.  The sector group which is headed by Henry Canton, also asked in their release why is Guyanese rice in other countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad and Jamaica sold in the SAME price range that Belizean rice is currently sold here in Belize?  Can the importer sustain this cheap rice over the long haul?  Further down in their release, they stated, quote, “In reality, imported rice at 69 cents per pound is UNSUSTAINABLE for the long term. This low price is a ploy to have Guyanese rice enter the Belizean market; when our already stressed local rice industry becomes extinct, imported rice will then become more expensive with little to no benefit to Belizeans except to the importer!”  End of quote.  Well, today, Jack Charles fired off a release of his own, citing several points justifying his move to import the rice.  Charles noted that his objective is to import only 20% of the total rice consumed in the country and that he certainly has no interest in creating an import monopoly.  He says this business decision will give consumers a choice on the shelf and easier access for this basic grain and will also serve as a check and balance on price of Rice in the local market.  The release went on to quote a statement from the Government of Belize, dated March 2015, in which there was a commitment to consider the need to reduce the cost of living as it relates to the price of rice; however, Charles says eight months later and this still hasn’t been done.  He ends his release by saying that in his view, no business or producing sector should be over empowered to hold the country to ransom and that if producers are willing to sell their 1st grade rice for a similar price of 0.60 cents a pound (as it was in 2011) to the Belizean consumers, he just may be willing to reconsider his position.  So, we have heard from the Belize Agro-Productive Sector Group, COLA and Jack Charles.  But what is the Government saying about all this?  On his way out of the country, we caught up with CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, who told us that the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) has yet to receive a request for a permit to import the Guyanese rice.  In addition to that he says that if the rice does land in Belize without the necessary permit or authorization, then the authorities at BAHA will have apply their laws.  It is interesting to note that there is no restriction in importing rice from CARICOM countries but there is the need for sanitary permits and packaging standards to be met.  And while the Guyanese rice could be allowed in the country, CEO Alpuche believes that this is an opportunistic importation particularly since Guyana has lost other markets for their grain and in the long term, the cheap cost will not be sustainable.  When you compare the two industries, the Guyanese rice industry is subsidized while Belize’s industry isn’t and could not be as that would be an unsustainable venture.  If the rice does make its way onto the shelves, it could severely damage domestic production and income for the local farmers and stakeholders in the rice industry.  The key thing up to news time, tonight, however, is that BAHA has not gotten an application for the importation of Guyanese rice and until that happens, we will keep you updated.