By William Ysaguirre
Local demand for Plantation White Sugar (PWS) has increased by 21 percent increase in sales compared to last year, American Sugar Refineries/ Belize Sugar Industries Ltd (ASR/BSI) reported in response to queries from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) about a perceived shortage of sugar on the local market.
Based on past experience, when the company sold a little over 12,000 tonnes of white sugar last year, the company has enough sugar in its warehouses to supply local market demand until the next crop started.
However, there is a significant disparity in price between white sugar sold in Belize and the price in neighboring countries, BSI’s Director of Finance Shawn Chavarria indicated in a Zoom virtual press briefing on Wednesday morning, October 4.
The price of white sugar in Belize is a mere 40 percent of what it would fetch in Mexico, and the price of brown sugar in Belize is half the price in Mexico.
The company sells sugar to all and sundry, but not all that sugar may be ending up on Belizean tables. Chavarria hazarded a guess that the favorable prices among our neighbors encourages profiteering by some local buyers, who may be transporting sugar across the border, perhaps as much as 1,500 tonnes per year.
Only stronger Customs enforcement and border management can prevent such contraband, until domestic prices are adjusted to remove the profit motive, he warned.
The perceived shortages in supply were reported mostly in the west and south, he said, and as these municipalities are close to the border, the shortages suggest that some of the sugar intended for local consumers may be finding its way across the border.
The company had recommended from March this year that price controls be removed to allow local sugar prices to come in line with world sugar prices, a move the Government has strongly resisted for it would result in an increase in the cost of living. The company has provided the government and other sugar industry authorities with a list of sugar buyers, and a 10-year record of sugar sales, which show that brown sugar demand has been relatively stable and only white sugar sales jumped 20 percent in the past year.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai weighed in on the matter by saying the government will not allow any change in the controlled price of sugar at this time. BSI proposed the price adjustment as way to increase cane farmers’ earnings, but the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association has also resisted the change.
As to how to control and prevent contraband, Minister Mai noted that in neighboring countries, the sugar producer does not sell directly to wholesalers nor retailers. All sugar is sold to one central marketing authority, which then packages the sugar to be sold retail on the domestic market. Such packaging with clear labeling might do much to prevent Belizean sugar ending up on supermarket shelves across the border.