An end to the bagasse saga may be near. This morning, the Prime Minister met with principals of American Sugar Refining (ASR) on the sugar industry impasse between Belize Sugar Industry and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association over the issue of payment to farmers for bagasse.
PM Barrow described this morning’s meeting as successful. Why? Well, in principal, ASR has committed to pay the farmers for bagasse. According to the PM, ASR accepted certain proposals made by Government and reiterated their desire and determination to work with Government of Belize and BSCFA to move Belize’s sugar industry forward. That news was relayed to principals of the BSCFA at a meeting held this afternoon. We caught up with the PM following that meeting.
“The directors will now convene an emergency general meeting on Sunday and their acceptance need to be ratified by the general meeting. At this level, there is an acceptance of the position. We are therefore preparing to start the crop as soon as may be possible and we are preparing to start the negotiations between the BSCFA and BSI which negotiations will proceed on the basis that payment for bagasse is due but that of course of quantum must be agreed. Once the ratification is had on Sunday, we are looking at convening the first negotiating session as early as Thursday of next week, but I have no idea of why is the gulf between the two parties in terms of a figure”.
But it’s not a done deal, as the association will meet with its farmers on Sunday to discuss a way forward. Vice President of the BSCFA, Alfredo Ortgea, explains.
“In principle, it looks very good on what he has reported to him…what ASR sent in their letter that they compromise themselves for payment of bagasse to the farmers. Based on what he has mentioned to us, we will be calling a meeting with farmers on Sunday to report to them what we have gotten from the Prime Minister to do.
Reporter: “Was the quantum discussed”.
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “No, not as yet. That will be for discussion between us and BSI”.
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “Based on what the farmers will approve to us, that is what we will be doing. That will depend on the meeting we will hold on Sunday”.
The next topic of concern, should the farmers accept the deal, is the start of the 2013-2014 crop season.
Reporter: “Are you ready to start the season right on December 15th”
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “We cannot commit at this point in time. All will depend on the meeting on Sunday from the cane farmers. If we continue our problems and we cannot resolve it, we can say that if 15th of January comes and we are unable to start, then we will see huge problems and huge losses that can be created to the industry”.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow: I had already gone ahead doing the estimate. First of all, we are dong $2M worth of repairs to the sugar roads; $1.1M in Orange Walk, $900,000 in Corozal. It is now only for the contracts to be entered into because with this government everything must be on the up and up. You know that administrative details sorted out and I will imagine that contractors will start to mobilize immediately. We can sign up contracts tomorrow Thursday, I would think not later than Friday, the contractors will start to mobilize, but they basically will have until the end of the year to complete the work because the crop can’t start until then”.