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Jun 1, 2018

Northern Cane Farmers Mobilize over Sugar Waiver

The release of white sugar in the local market by the Spanish company, Santander, has thrown the local sugar industry into a tailspin. On May eleventh, it was first detected that through DV Distributors, the white sugar was retailing in stores in the Corozal, Orange Walk and Cayo Districts in violation of Santander’s Export Processing Zone Certificate. Five thousand farmers represented through three associations in the north came out strongly against the move and are now stepping up their efforts seeking a rejection of Santander’s application for a waiver to allow the company to sell three thousand five hundred tons of white and five thousand five hundred tons of brown sugar domestically, as well as to market it in CARICOM. The associations argue that if granted, the waiver will affect their livelihoods because it will cause a reduction in the price of cane paid to farmers and therefore should be rejected. Furthermore, that Santander should be fined for violating the terms of its EPZ certificate. News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks at all the angles in the following report.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The untimely introduction of plantation white sugar onto the domestic trading floor by Santander presents an imminent threat to the local sugar industry.  In the days ahead, the Export Processing Zone Committee is likely to consider an application by the company for a waiver to sell milled sugar internally.  The concern, should that contract be granted, is the adverse effect of competition on existing price regimes elsewhere within the industry.

 

William Neal

William Neal, Communications Director, A.S.R./B.S.I.

“While the local market is important, it’s important to us and to farmers because it is a part of the pricing formula for the price that is paid to cane farmers per ton of sugar cane that they produce.  So it’s important for us and we recognize that it also impacts heavily anyone who’s involved in the sugar industry in the northern part of the country.”

 

A.S.R./B.S.I. is only one of several key stakeholders in the large-scale production of sugar in Belize.  Others include a trio of associations representing the interests and welfare of cane farmers.  Together, they have written the EPZ Committee recommending that Santander’s application be rejected.  Salvador Martin is the Chairman of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association.

 

Salvador Martin

On the Phone: Salvador Martin, Chairman, B.S.C.F.A.

“We sent them a letter showing the results and the impact that will damage Corozal and Orange Walk in the north, that we depend on directly for the cane farmers’ sugar, like how we say, the sugar industry, like I say, I’m not sure if you understand me, I am saying that we depend directly on sugar.  In other words, we can’t accept the unacceptable, a waiver or permission for them to get a concession for thirty percent of the direct consumption [sugar] in Belize.”

 

According to a letter written by the joint associations, granting Santander permission to sell three thousand, five hundred tons of white sugar and one thousand, five hundred tons of brown sugar in the local market will see a reduction in the cane prices paid to farmers.  The net loss, based on the calculation per ton of cane, is one dollar and sixty-five cents.  Those figures have been presented to the EPZ Committee.

 

On the Phone: Salvador Martin

“About the letter, we still sent it to the EPZ board telling them why we are so worried about that waiver and we still gave them a copy, and we gave them figures on how it will affect us directly.  If they produce that thirty percent in our country, the cane farmers we are facing to lose more than one dollar and sixty-five cents directly in our sales.”

 

Santander coming onboard with white and brown sugar not only threatens the livelihoods of the thousands of cane farmers operating in northern Belize, it also jeopardizes the status quo based on the existing Sugar Act.

 

William Neal

“We have a very good relationship with our farmers associations, some more than others, but we know that we are in the same boat.  What impacts the farmers impacts us.  We just want the competition to be fair and that the rules for any investor are adhered to, to make sure that it is in the best interest of the country and the general population that is impacted or makes their livelihood by producing that product. The sugar industry up north has a set of rules that is actually laid out very clearly in the Sugar Act.  We then have the commercial agreements with the cane farmers associations that, you know, dictates exactly what we do.  We don’t have the liberty of not paying attention to the Sugar Act, that’s what guides the entire industry up north.  It has many stakeholders, we have government as a stakeholder, we have farmers associations and of course you have B.S.I. as the miller, as a stakeholder in all of that.  So it’s a three-legged stool and we as a company devised our strategy using our strengths and our weaknesses… because you are only as strong as your weakest link.  We have to move our farmers in the direction that we need to go.”

 

That direction is a move toward direct consumption sugar.

 

William Neal

“With the changes in the EU regime in October 2017, we have been very strategic in our preparation for global competition.  Competition on a global scale because sugar is definitely, you know, with the prices that we are seeing on the world market, every little bit counts.  So as much as possible, we have to create a competitive edge.  We have been investing in a Direct Consumption Sugar Expansion Project with the idea that value-added sugar.  There is no place for raw sugar.  Value added products like direct consumption sugar is the way to go, so we have been preparing for competition globally.”

 

That preparation does not include the likelihood of competition on the local front. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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1 Response for “Northern Cane Farmers Mobilize over Sugar Waiver”

  1. Jason says:

    So we consumers can’t get benefit of a better price? Give asr same duty exemption and let’s both export cheaper product – why is government protecting inefficiency like it’s a communist state

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