On Monday we saw the passing of new Sugar Industry legislation, to assist in propelling the industry out of an impasse between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association and the American Sugar Refineries/ Belize Sugar Industries. With the delay of the crop season and an agreement not forthcoming between the farmers and the miller, Government stepped in to allow for associations other than the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) to negotiate with Belize Sugar Industries for delivery of sugar cane to the Tower Hill factory.
More than five years ago, the Supreme Court of Belize had ordered, by consent, that the Sugar Industry Act be amended. The Government did not comply then but with the circumstances being what they are now, Government went to the House on Monday to do just that. It was rushed through the house on Monday, with the opposition complaining that it was not enough time to analyze the amendment.
Well we took a closer look at the new legislation for analysis and we will share some of that with you.
First of all, the definition of “cane farmer” changed from the old Sugar industry law of 2001. A cane farmer was first defined as a person or entity who cultivates cane and has been registered as a producer of cane by the Sugar Cane Production Committee and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. The new legislation says the person or entity only has to be registered by the Sugar Cane Production Committee; BSCFA has been removed from that definition all together.
So who is the Sugar Cane Production Committee which has become more powerful with this new legislation? It still comprises of five members; one appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, and two continue to be from the manufacturer, in this case ASR. However, the two seats that were attributed to BSCFA will now be shared by the different associations. The legislation does not specify how those representatives will be selected, but the BSCFA does not control those seats anymore. In the old legislation, the Chairmanship of the Sugar Cane Production Committee was rotated between the different entities, but in the new legislation, the Minister appoints the chair.
The legislation also affects the composition of the Sugar Industry Control Board. Members of the board moved from 7 to 9 individuals. Remaining the same are the seats of one senior official of the Ministry, the Chief Agricultural Officer, and two appointed by the Minister in his discretion, However, where BSCFA had two seats, they now have one and two other cane farmers associations have been brought into the board, each with its own seat, giving three seats in total to the farmers. ASR, which had two seats before, now also has three seats. In the event that there are other cane farmers association, those associations need to agree on which three will be represented on the board. If they cannot reach agreement, then the Minister will appoint who will represent the cane farmers associations on the board.
Our final point of analysis for tonight is the fact that the old legislation allowed for the establishment of a Cane Farmer Registry, utilizing the 2001 registered cane farmers’ license list at the base reference. This new legislation removes that criteria of a base reference and in essence opens up the playing field to new sugar cane farmers.
ASR has exclusive 10 year milling rights and can produce a capacity of 1.35 million tons per crop season. According to BSCFA, this year’s survey has shown 1.477 million tons of cane available for this crop, not counting any new cane fields that may be in the game; already more than the mill can handle.