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Jan 21, 2021

A Proposal to Make Local Dairy Products More Affordable!

When Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise announced that he was looking at protectionist policies in order to promote domestic producers, it wasn’t welcomed with open arms.  Some sections of the public were worried that their favourite imported brands will disappear from store shelves, but Minister Jose Mai says that’s not the aim of his proposals.  He is simply putting in importation control measures that will level the playing field, which will essentially make those imported brands costlier and local brands more affordable.  He says it is a plan that will boost domestic production to stimulate the economy and improve livelihoods.  Today, News Five was invited to Spanish Lookout where we joined Minister Mai and other ministry officials to learn more about the dairy sector through the operations of Western Dairies.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

If you prefer imported dairy products, you should prepare to shell out some extra cash to buy them. Imported cheese, milk and yogurt will become more expensive if the government approves the imposition of taxes and other duties on the foreign brands.


Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise

“We don’t want to mislead the public by saying that you will not have your John Doe milk – but you will have to pay for it. If you want imported milk, you have pay for it. We are proposing and hoping to get the support from cabinet colleagues to enforce the law by the imported brands paying GST and we also propose to clarify, besides the GST, to put duties on imported products.”


That’s a proposal from the Minister of Agriculture Abelardo Mai and he is pushing forward gathering information to do just that.  Today, he toured the Western Dairies facilities where he got a first-hand look at their operations. He says he wants to level the playing field for local manufacturers like Western Dairies which is the largest dairy producer in Belize. The Spanish Lookout based company produces a variety of fresh cheeses, milk, yogurts and a range of other dairy products without the artificial additives and preservatives found in imported brands, but their products are not flying off the shelves. According Minister Mai, that’s because many of these imported brands getting tax breaks when they enter Belize – and because they enjoy subsidies and other incentives in their countries that push down production costs – which is a tough for local products to compete with.


Jose Abelardo Mai

Jose Abelardo Mai

“There is an inability of the local products to be sold because of the unfair competition. When you look at the unfair competition – when you look at processed milk coming into the country paying zero duty. In 2018-2019, certain companies were not even paying GST. They were qualifying the imported milk at fresh milk which it is not.   So, clearly it is unfair competition to our local manufacturers and that has to be addressed.”


So, Mai’s suggestion is to impose taxes on the imported brands – but also to reduce some of the duties that local producers have to pay. Mai believes that this will help to promote local products which will have a ripple effect on the economy.


Jose Abelardo Mai

“The mere fact that we are proposing to remove GST and to remove import duties from packaging and bottling equipment will make the cost go down. By that going down, then our products become more competitive.”


Isaac Wolfe

…and Chairman of the Western Dairies Board Isaac Wolfe hopes those control and incentives measures will be approved. He says that the company has had to cut down milk purchases this year so there is room for increased production. Wolfe believes they can produce more if the demand is there.


Isaac Wolfe, Chairman, Western Dairies

“Yes we will do our best but like the Minister said it is not like they will cut off importations – they will control it. I want to publicly thank him for that because that will be a big help for us that we can do our utmost.”


Western Dairies’ production accounts for three point two million dollars in milk and one point nine million dollars in cheese. It’s a fraction in value when compared to imported milk and cream at twenty-one point eight million dollars, while the value of imported cheese stands at thirteen million dollars. That is a whopping combined value of thirty-four point eight million dollars. Mai believes this is a clear indication that the sector is ready to grow and his policies will help to do that.


Jose Abelardo Mai

“So we are importing twenty one point eight and producing three point two – it means that we can grow this industry and we can grow it by making the right policies.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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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