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Sugar Standoff!

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

Prime Minister John Briceño says the Government continues to monitor an impasse between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association and Belize Sugar Industries Limited, American Sugar Refineries which continues to threaten the stability of the sugar industry and thousands of families in the north.

PM Briceño told reporters that the Minister of Agriculture is expected to brief the government on the situation on Wednesday, December 22nd.

Briceño says that government needs to ensure that there is a sense of fairness. “I am not accusing the farmers or BSI/ASR of not being fair,” said Briceño. Briceño added. “As a government, we cannot standby and allow for chaos to take over in the industry and so we believe we have to come in as honest brokers to be able to ensure that we could have the two parties to sit around the table and negotiate an agreement that is beneficial to both sides.”

BSCFA which represents more than three thousand farmers notified BSI/ASR in August 2021 its intention to terminate an existing commercial agreement that expires on January 19, 2022. BSI/ASR had high hopes that the new sugar cane crop season would commence on Monday, December 20. However, Chairman of the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) Marcos Osorio informed stakeholders on December 17 that until the SICB publishes the start date then it would be “it is unlawful to commence the delivery and grinding of sugarcane.”

In response, BSI/ASR describes SICB’s decision “as a deliberate attempt to prevent the crop from starting which would have significant financial repercussions for the mill, farmers, and the wider economy.”

BSI/ASR has retained the legal services of Marine Parade Chambers (MPC). MPC’s Hector Guerra wrote to Osorio. According to Osorio, in the letter, he is told to seek “good legal advice and govern your actions accordingly.” Osorio says that while the letter was strongly worded he is not intimated because he is protected by the Sugar Industry Act. 

As to BSI/ASR’s threatening legal redress, Briceño said that the matter is moot since the crop is expected to commence ‘in a few days.’ According to Osorio, it is more likely that the crop will begin after the Christmas holidays.

BSCFA says that it wants a new commercial agreement under new terms. BSCFA wants to negotiate the price sharing mechanism. PM Briceño says that since the BSCFA has more than 700,000 tonnes of sugar cane in the field, the association has the right to do so. Vice President of International Relations for BSI/ASR Malcolm “Mac” McLachlan told reporters earlier in the week that “it was stated to us quite clearly that what BSCFA wants is more money from the mill.” McLachlan said. “There’s nothing to give.”

Cabinet had recommended that the parties sign a six-month interim agreement to allow for further talks. BSCFA wants to sign a one-year interim contract. BSI/ASR, however, wants BSCFA to sign a seven-year extension of the current commercial agreement.

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