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Aug 2, 2017

Sugar Impasse Continues; B.S.C.F.A. Demands Respect from B.S.I.

The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association has officially written to American Sugar Refining/Belize Sugar Industries Limited, announcing that while it supports the investment of twenty-two million dollars for production of direct consumption, value-added sugars at the Tower Hill factory, it wants several amendments to the existing commercial agreement and a chance to negotiate same before the start of the next crop season. A.S.R./B.S.I. maintains that it is not in favour of such negotiations at such a delicate time for the industry, and that if there is a decision to opt out of the agreement to pursue negotiations next January, it may cause farmers not to be able to deliver cane. The Association has threatened legal action if that becomes true. However, both sides spoke to News Five today in Orange Walk in a conciliatory, though resolute tone.  The result appears to be impasse, as Aaron Humes reports.

 

Oscar Alonzo

Oscar Alonzo, C.E.O., Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association

“What are we? This is a business, and you should treat us as business partners, not just as – it’s not like you treat us like an employee or a cane cutter – like ‘here, take that.’ We have a different relationship and I think that respect has to be shown between both parties in relation to that.”

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, to paraphrase Aretha Franklin, wants American Sugar Refining/Belize Sugar Industries Limited to find out what respect means to them. The impasse between the two parties on extending the commercial agreement to January 2022 with minor amendments flies in the face, C.E.O. Oscar Alonzo told us today, of the negotiated clauses that allow for future negotiation, like the bagasse formula.

 

Oscar Alonzo

“They want to cement the formula for the bagasse. But in that clause, it is clearly stated that after three years we would revisit the formula and in order to revisit the formula, they would provide us with financial statements on the operations of BELCOGEN, for us to see if BELCOGEN is making profits, then to see if there is a way to negotiate the payment for bagasse. What we are saying is, the picture that is being thrown out to the public out there is that we are recalcitrant and want to go back to that formula. We are simply saying, you agreed with us that we would revisit it after three years – let’s do it, within a process of negotiation and not a process of imposition, I was saying. Provide us with the data – they have already provided us with some data – but the thing is, let us look at it in a process of analysis. In analyzing it, and we see that okay, fine, it’s not possible for any change, we will not knock our heads against the wall and try to force an imposition like what they are trying to do with us now for a change in the payment. It’s simply, let us engage in the process.”

 

A Strategic Development Plan was never agreed between the parties, which in itself is grounds for a potential opt-out or termination. Both sides agree that that is not necessary. But A.S.R./B.S.I. continue to believe that process will only bring a headache and a hangover that the industry does not need, especially on the cusp of a significant investment into producing direct consumption sugar for sale in the European market. A.S.R.’s vice president of international relations, Mac Maclachlan, firmly believes that now is not the time for such negotiations.

 

Mac Maclachlan

Mac Maclachlan, Vice-President International Relations, A.S.R./B.S.I.

“What I’m trying to do is avoid that situation, because we’ve been there before; we’ve been there several times in the last few years. It’s led to disruption in this industry. Things have changed from three years ago; the revenue outlook, because of the global sugar market and the changes in the E.U. sugar market is not what it was three years ago. We are doing everything we can at B.S.I. to look at how we can make this industry sustainable and move forward for the benefit of all stakeholders in this industry and the benefit of the country of Belize. And so, what we don’t want to do is to embark on a discussion of certain issues which fundamentally would change the revenue structures, which would probably lead to stalemate as they have in the past. We don’t think it’s the time to do that; we think it’s the time to shake hands and say ‘let’s carry on as we are; and you go ahead,’ B.S.I. makes the investment; the added value of that investment is shared with farmers.”

 

Alonzo says B.S.C.F.A. is all for that, but if not now, when? Citing the skirmish over the million-dollar loss of molasses last year which B.S.I. shouldered partially on B.S.C.F.A. despite agreeing that the cane stalks, once delivered, are theirs to deal with, he told us that farmers are looking to protect their interest, including legal action if needed.

 

Oscar Alonzo

“What we are saying now – give us a chance, then; give us a chance. You want to change, you want to amend? We also think we should amend it so that in the future – what happens if we have another case of the loss of molasses; what happens if sugar now becomes…? We’ll have to go to court – because we had to take them to court, we had to take legal action, in order to show that what they were doing was not correct. And we were able to get a settlement out of court for them to return that money to our cane farmers, our members. So we want to avoid that, because that is an unnecessary cost to us when we have to pay legal costs and everything. So we were saying, you were thinking of benefiting from this thing, we are thinking about benefiting from this also. Let us amend the agreement, so that the agreement takes into account if things of that nature ever happen. And there are other issues, minor issues, in the agreement that we can improve, because our experience over the past three years gives us enough basis and now there is an opportunity there, let’s improve it, because the objective of having an agreement is to have good relations and keep improving, but it should be in a balanced and a just manner.”

 

With just months to go before crop starts again, there’s no time to waste. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

B.S.I. denied charges by B.S.C.F.A. that they have approached individual farmers to break out from the organization; Maclachlan told us that farmers’ decisions are entirely their own. For their part, the Association has asked its members to be especially careful with any negotiation with the sugar producer.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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