And while SICB has not responded to the three-sugar cane associations, a response was forthcoming from BSI/ASR to the SICB. That response had to do with SICB’s decision to delay the sugar cane crop. This past weekend, BSI/ASR said in a company release that the necessary consultations with industry stakeholders had taken place and an initial announcement on the start of the crop had already been made. Their position is that the start date of December 20 was set, and a follow-up announcement would have only been a formality. With SICB delaying the set date, BSI/ASR concluded that it is, “a deliberate attempt to prevent the crop from starting”. BSI/ASR’s Vice President of International Relations Mac McLachlan says the company is seeking legal redress.
Mac McLachlan, VP, International Relations, ASR/BSI: “We believe that this was unwarranted intervention in the operation of a private sector industry and it’s meant basically the crop start is now delayed. Now that’s going to cost every day its’ delayed it’s causing economic damage to all industry stakeholders. We sought legal advice on that action and this morning lawyers representing the mill have sent a letter to the SICB setting up the illegality of that action because it amounts to an abuse of authority after farmers and millers had already decided on the start of crop and asking him to comply with the decision reached in his presence at those earlier meetings. There’s no need in the law for the SICB to rubber stamp the decisions it’s simply to publish that in the gazette. And I think it’s fair to say that action has really brought to the forefront a major concern that we and other industry stakeholders share which is about the level of control and authority that’s place in a government controlled institution which you know seems to be out of place in a modern sugar industry for this action intervention in the operation of a private sector business is going to be to the detriment of all its stakeholders and you know we are actively considering the legal position now under the constitution of Belize which provides for rights of individuals to conduct their business unimpeded. We note similar things have taken place in other agricultural industries over the years and you know to my mind it’s just a real pity that all the farmers who want to deliver their cane, of which that’s the vast majority and the miller that wants to receive the cane are impeded from doing so. The reason that we wanted to start now is because as well know when we have a significant amount of cane to mill we want to get through that as quickly as we can and certainly before the weather turns usually around the end of July. So the idea of getting moving now is really to help everyone including the farmers. We’ve been receiving a lot of calls from obviously from association members and leaders of the three associations who already have long term agreements with us and from BSCFA farmers remembering that BSCFA also has an agreement to deliver cane at this time. So you know I think there’s a real problem here and because there’s definitely going to be economic disadvantage I think it would be very wise for SICB to think about its liability in that state.”
Furthermore, BSI/ASR says it feels obligated not to receive sugar cane today for three reasons. First, it is still without a declaration from the SICB and as such, the company would be breaking the law if it were to start receiving cane. Second, the company is aware of threats made on social media and the radio, and because of this, it will do its best to avoid a situation that could trigger violence. Third, there is uncertainty for both farmers and the millers and the impact it will have on cane supply. BSI/ASR has asked farmers not to burn fields and attempt to deliver their cane today. McLachlan says that every day the crop is delayed translates to significant losses.
Mac McLachlan, VP, International Relations, ASR/BSI: “It has become very very clear to us that – in fact it was stated to us quite clearly that what BSCFA want is more money for the mill and at a time when the mills invested heavily in value added products, in a port facility at Big Creek that’s going to reduce the cost of freight farmers will share that advantage. You know there’s nothing to give and that’s why it’s very difficult now for us to consider anything like an interim agreement because there would be absolutely no point. That would simply be pushing this whole issue down the track to come back and ruin another crop next year so I’ll pause there but that’s basically where we are today.”