PM Provides Update on Sugar Impasse
The sugar industry is at a familiar but critical crossroad. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association and BSI/ASR remain at loggerheads over the future of the industry. The association has asked for clarification from the miller over expenses that the farmers say have cut into their profits. They also went as far as saying that the calculation of the Net Stripped Value of sugar and molasses (NSV) needs to be replaced with a straight 60-40 split of the proceeds of sugar and its by-products. Today, Prime Minister, John Briceño was asked for his impressions of how things are going.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “It is something that needs to be address. The sugar industry continues to be one of the most important industries in the country and specifically for the north. In Cabinet we have agreed that we will ask Minister Mai to meet with both BSI and to the BSCFA to be able to try to settle on the mediation process. Both parties have agreed. When we just first suggested the issue of the mediation process I think it was around August BSI was not fully convinced that they would need to go to mediation but now that we have just probably about a month that we want to try to address this matter so I’m hoping that calmer heads prevail and that both parties can sit with a mediator to try and settle the differences that they have. Once the mediation starts then it is now a matter of these two private groups to be able to come up nad try to find how they can find a settlement and we’re hoping that that settlement can be done hopefully within a month. I don’t know why they’re making an issue on that because I’ve been very clear and I have said it to them in many instances no company is going to give up $20 million dollars. Obviously you’re driving them to bankruptcy and I have been saying it over and over we need the millers as much as we need the farmers. We need the farmers as much as we need the millers. One can’t do without the other. The point is that this whole issue started when the association the BSCFA was questioning what was being charged as what you call to come to the next strip value and that charge was coming up to about $30 million dollars and they felt that BSI was not totally transparent to them when it comes to those charges and so they were asking for the right to audit and BSI was resisting. They are saying well here are my audited reports but your audited reports is one thing but when you see the documentary evidence to back up that report then you know what’s there and that’s what they wanted and BSI was resisting for some time. Now BSI has said okay I am prepared to give you the right to audit and BSCFA said well now we want now a totally different agreement as to the revenue sharing and that is fine if that’s what they want and we are encouraging. To me what is important is for them to sit around the table and to be able to discuss to find a way how to settle this. I am also a cane farmer so it is also in my interest to be able to have a settlement but also I’m also the Prime Minister of this country I have a greater responsibility not only as a cane farmer but as the leader of the country to ensure that we can have an agreement that is going to be fair to the farmers but also to the miller.”
While the BSCFA has expressed many concerns and general skepticism in the symbiotic relationship between the miller and the farmers, the Prime Minister, who himself is a cane farmer, told the media that cooler heads must prevail so that the impasse can come to an amicable end.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “Should we try to attempt to do anything from both sides, if we do something that would favour BSI BSCFA will take us to court and say you don’t have that authority and if we do for the cane farmers BSI will take us to court to say we don’t have that authority. I think that both sides need to understand that they need to sit down and to have good faith negotiations to be able to find a settlement that is going to be in the interest of both parties. This can’t be one party wins all and the next party loses. Both parties have to give, both parties need to give so that it could turn into a win win for the farmers, for BSI and for the country.”
Reporter: How effective do you think that Minister Mai’s intervention will be given that Mr.Florencio Marin was tasked to do this as well and they still haven’t found a mediator ?
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “Well not necessarily. I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. Mr.Marin was brought on board to be able to try to keep the conversations going within the farmers and also BSI and he has had some success with that but because he has also been in contact not only with BSCFA that’s not the only cane farmer association we have three other cane farming associations and they also expressed – one of them wrote me a letter on Monday expressing grave concern because they have signed a contract. They have an agreement with BSI and their concern is that if we don’t start the crop they are also going to lose when they have already signed an agreement. So Mr.Marin his task was to be able to make sure that we could keep things calm, keep things going, keep things moving but in this instances what we did now is at the end of the day the minister responsible for the sugar industry is Abe Mai that has never changed and so now that we’re reaching at an impasse Cabinet has asked Minister Mai to sit with both of them and try to hammer out an agreement for mediation.”