On Sunday in Corozal caneros met to consider the proposal from Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) to begin negotiations over the long awaited payment for bagasse. BSI wrote the Prime Minister last week outlining what it was and was not willing to speak about and that letter was read to the caneros on Sunday.
“BSI considers on paying for bagasse and agrees to negotiate this issue with the BSCFA. 2. The payment will finally resolve the issue of payment for bi products under the Memorandum of Agreement. 3. As part of the negotiation, a new cane purchase would be finalized that would 1. Divert ownership of cane, all of its components and delivery to the mill, 2. Incorporate the bagasse payment and 3. Incorporate an agreement on the other pending commercial matters already discussed. The crop will start on an agreed date and proceed without interruption to completion.
5. The negotiation for the bagasse may be concurrent with the crop. 6. Any negotiation will not be passed to either party’s legal position. We look forward to BSCFA representatives for the purpose of the said discussions”.
However, the farmers effectively re-wrote the demands of BSI as their own, resolving that BSI must commit to a payment, the nature of which would be discussed; rejecting that the issue must finally be resolved; insisting that they initially own the cane which they supply to the mill, and refusing that let that be a topic of the new cane supply agreement; stating that the crop would start on an agreed on date provided only that the farmers get a signed and legally binding agreement with the input of the Government and that such negotiations be finalized by the end of January. We spoke afterward to Mr. Alfredo Ortega, the vice-chairman of the Committee of Management of the BSCFA, for details.
“What has transpired today is that farmers, what they have based upon us, again, is that what we need to do is to have a signing agreement with BSI to finalize the agreement with them where it include a payment for bagasse. What they have said is that they are prepared to start the crop, once we have signed that agreement with BSI where it’s a binding agreement and then what a new simultaneously up to the end of January, is the quantum that will be paid for bagasse”.
Reporter: “As you said, this will be taken back to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has come out, the Cabinet has too, in fact come out in support of your position”.
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “Of course, that helped us a lot. It was good that he came out openly in support of the cane farmers, but the other issue is the letter that BSI send on some glitches on it that are not beneficial to us farmers. That’s why we called this meeting and we are sending him now the response of the farmers”.
Ortega speaks about the way forward.
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “Well, as you see, there are certain things that they are trying to manipulate the way they want and I can strongly say that we are not the same association as 10 years ago. We have now changed. Se have technical people with us and we are dealing with this as professionals as they are. So ,the association is treating as professional as we can, and we understand very clearly, and we are looking forward in negotiating benefits for the farmers.
Reporter: “As to the actual start of crop, we have to wait until Thursday to find out or would there even be a meeting Thursday or first take this to the Prime Minister and from there, he will mediate again with BSI/ASR?”
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “Well, we can say for a start on crop after we wsign anything with BSI which gives a binding situation between BSI and ourselves whereby BSI compromise themselves that they will be paying the farmers for bagasse. After that we can talk about sitting down and negotiate for a start on the date of crop”.
The much needed meeting was adjourned at midday after short discussion on other issues.