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Dec 15, 2015

Rice War Imminent

For days, we have been reporting on the attempts by businessman Jack Charles of Xtra House and RC Imports to import rice from Guyana into the local market. The rice, he says, is to be sold at a price lower than it is currently retailing. Sounds good for consumers, especially at this time of the year, but even though the shipment is heading for the Big Creek Port in the south, there are still yet a number of hurdles. The agro-productive sector feels the importation of rice undercuts their bottom line so they are lobbying to stop it. This morning, the businessman’s team of advisors faced the media and so did rice producers. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The fight for long-term sustainability and reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food – rice being a staple in the Belizean diet – has seen the Government of Belize siding with local producers.  G.O.B.’s support for homegrown rice, in a market presently under threat of being destabilized by importation, seemingly disregards the leveled playing field created by the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.

 

Sergio Garcia

Sergio Garcia, Regional Trade Specialist

“The Supplies Control Act of Belize has it very clear, and I have the evidence here, according to the law, that says any product from CARICOM does not require an import license.  And that is under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which refers to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.  So in a nutshell there can be no use of quantitative restrictions for any product to enter our Belize market.”

 

While that may be so, a permit from the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, BAHA, for businessman Jack Charles to import three containers of bulk rice from Guyana remains to be granted.  Dr. Henry Canton, Chairman of the Belize Agro-productive Sector Group, says that clearance has not been given to bring in the shipment of grain from South America.

 

Henry Canton

Dr. Henry Canton, Chairman, Belize Agro-productive Sector Group

“The case here is that even though rice may have come from Guyana in the past, each time that rice hits Belize or comes to Belize it has to have a valid BAHA permit for that specific shipment and our understanding is that BAHA permit for this specific shipment has not been granted.”

 

According to Sergio Garcia, a representative of RC Imports, an entity also owned by Jack Charles, the consignment of rice meets all sanitary and phytosanitary measures aimed at protecting human, animal and plant life from certain risks.

 

Sergio Garcia

“In terms of the rice coming from Guyana, it does not pose any agricultural health risk nor human health risk because we have eaten the rice and nobody died from it.  So in a nutshell we are saying that the rice meets all the SPS requirements.”

 

Beyond those measures are serious concerns among grain growers that Jack Charles will get away with bringing in Guyanese rice by simply paying a small fine.

 

Dr. Henry Canton

“One of our issues is that if it does hit ground will it just be fined and released and then enters our market which is a grave, grave concern that we are having at this time.  And secondly, we had the experience in the past where we shipped a container, Caribbean Chicken shipped a container of chickens to Trinidad and that container was rejected by their BAHA and it was not allowed to come off the ship.  So we would like to see government take the exact same position that Trinidad took with us and this rice not having a BAHA permit that it’s not allowed to come off the barge from Santo Tomas to Big Creek and be sent back where it came from.”

 

Should that cargo successfully land in Belize later this week, it comes prepackaged and, according to Garcia, the suggested retail price remains fixed.

 

Sergio Garcia

“We are bringing this rice already packaged.  Already there is on that package irremovable ink that the price to the consumer is maximum sixty-nine cents.  It’s printed on the bags.”

 

As it pertains to the issue of food security, Garcia maintains that it is very much a matter of affordability versus availability.

 

Sergio Garcia

“I’ve heard the C.E.O. and other senior officials speak about food security and even the Mennonites and the other millers speaking about food security but they have the wrong concept of what is the problem in Belize.  Food security, in Belize there is no lack of availability of supplies, there is.  The problem is access.  The problem is that the average Belizean consumer cannot afford the price of rice, okay.  And what that tells you?  We are saying that we can bring rice that is more affordable to the consumers and ensure their food security.”

 

Stanley Rempel, C.E.O. of Circle R Products says that it is cheaper to produce rice in Guyana simply because farmers are incentives by government, unlike Belize where taxes are levied on all inputs.

 

Stanley Rempel

Stanley Rempel, C.E.O., Circle R Products

“They have free infrastructure.  They have free water.  They have cheap financing.  They are not taxed at the front of the production cycle, whereas we are taxed at the front of the production cycle.  So there are a lot of factors that they are just disregarding and it is something that we have to take into consideration and yes, we have been meeting with government over the past years working out a fair cost of production because obviously every field has its own cost of production.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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1 Response for “Rice War Imminent”

  1. Belizean says:

    This so-called regional trade specialists and the importers are hell bent on destroying the economy of this country. And my question is, why the relentless support to the rice farmers specifically in the south by the EU, and then bringing in cheap rice? This is the most counter-productive move ever.

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