The Sugar Industry was discussed today at the People’s United Party’s Executive Committee meeting. The three sugar cane farmers association are not happy that Santander Sugar, based in the west, has submitted a request to sell its sugar on the local market. The associations believe that if granted permission to do so, the impact will negatively affect over five thousand cane farmers in an industry where the sugar prices have been declining over the past few years. Area Representative for Orange Walk South, Jose Abelardo Mai, spoke to the media.
Jose Abelardo Mai, Orange Walk South Area Representative: “The farmers in the dirt are the largest producers of sugar in the country. So now when Santander who should not be selling sugar locally is selling they have a competitive advantage because they have EPZ status and it is unfair for the farmer in the north because as you know the price of sugar cane has been going down, is going down and farmers are unable to meet the harvesting cost at this precise moment. So it is unfair that a company that has EPZ status is selling locally and competing with the farmers in the north. So all we are saying is that the Government must follow the law, Santander must follow the law, we are country of laws and regulations. So if they are selling sugar with EPZ status then they are breaking the law.”
Reporter: They’ve been doing like you said doing it without a permit, they officially made a request on Friday for the waiver in order to enter the local market, your advice to the government I would imaging would be to deny that waiver.
Jose Abelardo Mai, Orange Walk South Area Representative: “Well, we have to look- Santander is a big company but we have 5,000 cane farmers in the north that depend on sugar at this point who are not even able to cover their cost so selling sugar locally is what gives us the little extra but to deny us this now because one company that produces all the sugar in the west now is affecting us then it is something that we need to think about. Mind you we like that Santander is an investor and they employ a lot of people but they must follow the law. Now I want to tell you that the sugar industry was born under a PUP government I’ve always supported the farmers in the north and we want to the farmers in the north to survive. So this lies in the hands of the government, when you make a decision to advantage one producer, a huge producer than 5,000 cane farmers. There should have been a plan and sugar for the last five or six or seven years the price has been doing down, we know we were going to have the beet sugar being released from the European market but then this is supposed to be a part of the plan. If you had in mind to sell sugar locally then you ought not to have apply for EPZ status, you cannot sell sugar with an EPZ status and one company has no EPZ status that is unfair competition. Like I tell you we love Santander, we love their investment they are creating employment but we must also look after the welfare of the farmers in the north; you are talking about 5,000 farmers. You are competing at a disadvantage the field is not level.”
Mai’s colleague, the Area Representative of Cayo South Julius Espat has a different opinion. While accepting that he is not fully versed on the issue, Espat told the media that the issue must be carefully examined since Santander has contributed to economic development in the West.
Julius Espat, Area Representative for Cayo South: “Well the cane industry is not only for the north anymore. The cane industry is a nationwide industry, in the west Santander has invested not only Santander principals but they now have local Belizean investors going up to now I think 30% and so now we have to be careful when we make a decision of any company and we have to analyze it in general terms. Santander the way it works in the west is a lot of farmers are supplying cane to them, meaning that if I have 100 acres I can plant the cane and they will accept the product and so that has helped a lot of the land owners in Cayo South not necessarily just people working the fields and we also have a lot of people working the fields to be able to determine if they’re national Belizeans or immigrants I don’t know that is an analysis that we have to make. The problem in that area is that people don’t really go into the details to determine if they’re resident or nationals they just assume and we have to be careful when we say that. I know a lot of people in Cayo South for example specifically the Valley of Peace work there; I know a lot of people from Benque work there for example. I know of people coming as far as the south to work there and it has helped our area, it has brought an influx and money is circulating more, it has helped the local economy so I don’t know the details. I think Deputy Mai knows more of the details than I do but now that it’s been asked I will have to do more investigation to find out what the reality is.”
When we spoke to Minister of Investment Tracey Taeger Panton yesterday, we were told that Santander’s request will take no less than two weeks to be reviewed, considered and decided upon.