The crop season for sugar may be over but the hurdles for Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) are not. While the farmers endured horrid weather conditions as well as issues stemming from the covid-19 endemic, the new obstacle has to do with the inability to transport the sugar because of the protests occurred at the Port of Belize (PBL). The PBL employees have been protesting for weeks against a 10% salary reduction. Most recently, they began protesting against the termination of 36 workers, many who were responsible for the loading and unloading of sugar. Communications officer for BSI, William Neal, explained that the delay in the shipment of the sugar is severely costing them.
William Neal, Communications/ Government Affairs Representative, ASR/BSI: “Where we are right now we’re finalizing sugar still because remember sugar is something that it’s dependent on the market whether we make brown or plantation white or raw sugar. Unfortunately right now what we’re trying to do is actually send off some of our raw sugars and that’s loaded by the stevedores of the coast and because of the issues at the port we don’t have any loading taking place right now. There are costs associated with each day delay and it’s quite sizable so that’s a worry for us. The more protracted this disagreement is between the CWU and PBL it impacts us, it’s not only the closing of the ports which also impacts our containerized shipping as well direct consumption sugars, so we’re being impacted in both ways and we have costs associated with those and so as you know that cost is shared between the farmer and by the mill itself. So you’re talking about an impact that will really make it even more difficult for us during this year where we’ve had the COVID pandemic, we’ve had the ravages of the drought from last year and we also had a flood and we’re having pests as well so it will be a very difficult year and we’re hoping to conclude it successfully but this latest hurdle is definitely something that is setting us back further.”
According to Neal, BSI and the farmers absorb some of this cost. He also stated that if the protests continue, they will have to think outside the box to continue their operations.
William Neal, Communications/ Government Affairs Representative, ASR/BSI: “You know we have the agreement, the commercial agreement where there’s a 65/35. I know the shipping costs are covered by that but I can’t say definitively how the extra costs are shared. Hopefully it’s not going to be a long strike or we will have to look for an alternative in terms of getting the sugar out but it just makes it extremely difficult for farmers and for the mill and for the entire northern sugar industry because of what we see happening at the port and I’m sure we’re not the only business being impacted. So this dispute unfortunately is going to impact the country on a whole.”
We spoke with Neal this evening to get an update, but he stated that there has been no change in events.