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BSI/ASR Remain at Odds; Sugar Crop Season Stuck in Limbo

Will the 2021-2022 sugar crop season start on Monday? There is no clear indication if it will go as planned. That’s because the largest cane farmer association, the BSCFA, and BSI/ASR seem unable move past their impasse. As we reported, the two sides cannot reach a settlement on the terms of their commercial agreement. BSI/ASR insists there is one, which runs out on January 19 while the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association has been asking for a new agreement. Yesterday, the association’s CEO Oscar Alonzo laid out their position; today, it was BSI/ASR’s turn. Communications Officer, William Neal said that BSI left the meeting with the farmers yesterday disappointed.

William Neal, Communications and Govt. Affairs Officer, BSI-ASR: “Yesterday BSI met wit the BSCFA to look at a proposal and discuss a way forward with the commercial agreement but really to put forward a proposal with regards to value share based on what the BSCFA has proposed the 60/40 proposal that they have. We thought that the meeting went fairly well, at least at its inception and towards the end we were a little bit concerned that BSCFA indicated that they were not going to start the crop on Monday as was agreed to at the SICB meeting. This of course you know despite the fact that they have a contract that is valid until January 19th. We questioned if they were not going to participate or if they were going to instead do something to make sure that the crop did not start for anyone and they said take it as you see it. Okay? So we left the meeting disappointed that that was the position that they had taken and given the fact that we know that we’re in negotiations to come up with the way forward we’re concerned and disappointed that that would have been their response at the end of the meeting. Today the SICB Chairman issued a letter saying that the crop is in jeopardy of not being legally able to be started because it has not been gazetted. The practice has been in the industry that if the stakeholders meet and agree on a start date it then proceeds and that the announcement by the chairman is more a formality than a necessity. So at this late juncture, this being the seventeenth of December after 3pm we’re still in flux as to where we are with the start of the crop however BSI is prepared to start and the three other associations have indicated that they’re willing to proceed as well.”

While there has been disappointment on both sides, the media asked whether there was a steady breakdown in communications, which has led to mutual distrust. Neal explained that for BSI’s part, it has tried to meet the farmers half way.

William Neal, Communications and Govt. Affairs Officer, BSI-ASR: “What the BSCFA is asking for we have maintained from the beginning that we want to create a way forward that will not take away from anyone. What they have proposed would take away $20 million dollars from the mill at a time when we can least afford it so our proposal based on what they were asking for the, the 60/40, was really a way forward that would be not affect any of us negatively but would remove a lot of the conjecture and guess work that the BSCFA has maintained is actually a part of the problem in terms of moving forward with the agreement it self, that they think the numbers are not representative of true costs. So we have reworked to remove those costs to erase the conjecture that they’re always complaining about and that leads to mistrust.”

In the meantime, BSI is cautiously optimistic about going forward even with its multi-million dollar investments on the line. Neal says that the priority now is to get the crop season up and running as quickly as possible.

William Neal, Communications and Govt. Affairs Officer, BSI-ASR: “We have written to the SICB Chairman asking for a definitive response by tomorrow so that we can proceed to make the mill ready for our start on Monday. We’re hoping that we will receive a definitive answer from him by tomorrow and we’ll be able to proceed. As you know we’re seeing some rains but with the climate change considerations this was a well thought out decision to actually proceed at this point. That we need to get underway as quickly as possible to make sure that no standing cane is left at the end of the crop itself. You do have three associations that are ready to proceed and we’re hoping that it won’t come to that. That we’ll go ahead as was agreed and that we’ll get the clarity that we need tomorrow, that is our fervent hope that we don’t have a delay in the start of the crop itself. We’re being optimistic and we’re hoping that we’ll see the start come Monday at 10am as was agreed.”

We will update you over the course of the weekend and on Monday.///