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Jun 27, 2002

Deal near for local buyout of citrus plants

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The announcement earlier this week that Minister of Works Henry Canton will resign his Cabinet post to take a top job in the citrus industry was major news. But in the final analysis, the bigger story may be the fact that Canton’s new employers, the Citrus Grower’s Association, are for the first time poised to take full ownership of the nation’s two citrus processing plants. A release today from the C.G.A. indicates that negotiations are “substantially complete” for the C.G.A.’s wholly owned investment company to purchase Del Oro’s operations from the British Government’s Commonwealth Development Corporation. The C.G.A. already owns ten percent of Del Oro and the organisation’s membership, at its last general meeting, voted unanimously to pursue full ownership. For the C.D.C., which purchased the citrus company of Belize in 1998 and Belize Food Products in 1999, life in the citrus belt has been less than sweet. World prices began to fall soon after the purchase and more recently a C.D.C.–now on its way to privatisation–took a decision to get out of the agribusiness field worldwide. That left the door open to the citrus grower’s. According to C.G.A. chairman, William Bowman, it is an opportune time for Belizeans to take full control of their industry. He told News 5 that world prices, particularly for oranges, are on the upswing and have risen from four thirty-seven per box in last year’s crop to a projected five fifty-nine for the season just ended. While Bowman admitted that the size of this year’s crop was disappointing–total production of five point three-five million boxes was down almost twenty-five percent from the record set in 2001–he believes that with improved agricultural practices production could hit up to six and a half million boxes in 2003 and as much as nine million in three years time. With Belize’s traditional high quality product and good reputation in the world market, he predicts that citrus will continue to be a mainstay of the Belizean economy. Details of where the C.G.A. will access the funds for the purchase have not been revealed, but it is expected that the deal will close in the next few months, with former minister Canton as the CEO of the new company.

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