BSCFA Calls on Government to Mediate Dispute with ASR/BSI
The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) is calling on the government to assist them in striking an agreement with ASR/BSI. The association’s comments come after the mill sent a letter to cane farmers addressing alleged misinformation in circulation. ASR/BSI states in its letter that the BSCFA has rejected both of its proposals and insists on a transfer of value that they say is not viable to them. The letter also states that contrary to the associations’ claim, the BSCFA was not entitled to Fairtrade payments due to not having a letter of agreement with Tate & Lyle Sugars, which buys sugar from ASR/BSI. The company also touches on subject areas such as the commissioner of inquiry proposed by GOB, the newly proposed sugar regulations, and its outstanding commercial agreement with the BSCFA. The mill states that the letter informs farmers about what is occurring in the industry. However, the Chairman of the BSCFA’s Council of Management, Alfredo Ortega, says otherwise. Ortega spoke to Love News and explained that he believes the company is working to break up the association by the divide and conquer method.
Alfredo Ortega, Chairman, Committee of Management, BSCFA: “That is the same tactics that they have been playing for the past two years since we have been in this negotiation with them for a new agreement. So what they are looking for is that our farmers just get desperate and leave but really and truly that will not happen. Our farmers are stronger than ever and they understand very clear what is the gameplay of BSI in this situation. BSI didn’t want to accept anything that we were bringing on the table. They wanted what they want and they continue with that. So we cannot say that we are negotiating anything on the table when they don’t want to negotiate anything. They want things that we the BSCFA accept what they throw on the table as they bring it to the table but no type of negotiation to reach to a point to an amicable point that will benefit both of us. And this is the attitude that they have always placed that what they bring to the table is what should be accepted and nothing else. So we feel that as the BSCFA we have been asking for us to come to the table and let us negotiate so that we can reach amicable solution. We have changed certain points in our position that we had before and even with that BSI didn’t want to come to certain terms of negotiation to the table. They have changed and they wrote it in their letter around the 40-60 split that we have been asking on the gross but they want to put it on their way that nothing that is that is sugars that have been converted as the direct consumption sugar that the farmers will benefit out of that and we’re saying no because the farmers have suffered the consequences in regards to when they said that they will invest the 22 million that was charged over the farmers on which they are saying “no”. But Mr. Mac in certain interviews have said yes the farmers are paying 65 percent so we are paying 65 percent nevertheless, we don’t own anything from BSI and that is why we have said we want to negotiate this 60/40 with them but on the basis of the prices of sugar.”
In its letter, ASR/BSI says that while it agreed to a Commission of Inquiry (COI), it doesn’t believe the exercise should delve into the commercial agreement with the BSCFA. Ortega claims that the commission should not only investigate the prolonged dispute but the mechanism used by the company to calculate farmer payments.
Alfredo Ortega, Chairman, Committee of Management, BSCFA: “We are seeking from the government to put this commission of inquiry to do all the necessary investigation so that we can get to the points to get the information in regards to the true costs of what BSI has been charging in regards to the different services that they are charging from all the service that they that they put on board in regards to local handling, in regards to the manufacturing allowance, in regards to other services that they have brought thus forward we want the commission of inquiry to really investigate so that we can have a clear information on what the true costs are. The fair trade standards, in the trader standards – and there are two standards one is the sugar standard and the other one is the trader standards. On those two standards it says clearly, clearly that BSI should be the one paying the farmers because as different as other countries around us, the farmers are the ones that have, or other groups, are the ones that are in charge of marketing the sugar. Here in Belize, it’s not the farmers that market the sugar, it’s BSI that has the full authority under the law to market the sugar and molasses. So based on those points that they are the ones that market the sugar we don’t have any point to sell sugar to Tate and Lisle or to any other group it is BSI that has that authority. So they are the ones that are under the standards, they are the ones that are supposed to charge the premium and distribute it to each farm, to each association that is certified and that qualifies to get the premium. So it’s nothing that is being invented by the BSCFA it’s something that is there under the Fair Trade Standards. So now when we talk about laws they want us to respect the law in which we know we have to respect the law. But they don’t want to respect the law. They want to be, to come here and do whatsoever they feel like to do and to treat us the way they want to treat us. Believe me, you, slavery has been put aside a long time ago but they want to bring it back now and they want us to sign on our own that we will become slaves from them. And that shouldn’t be.”
Ortega added that the association recently met with group leaders of its association in the Orange Walk and Corozal District.