Since last week, importer Jack Charles also known as Jitendra Chawla, has been publicizing his fight to import cheaper rice from Guyana to Belize to compete with local rice producers who he says have been overcharging consumers. He believes he can sell the imported rice at about half the current rate of $1.10 per pound but has run into trouble from the Ministry of Agriculture which has been reluctant to issue a permit. Today Prime Minister Dean Barrow told us negotiations were underway which would see a harmonization of Charles’ wishes and those of the local rice producers.
“It was discussed in Cabinet. There are ongoing meetings between the Ministry of Agriculture and the local rice producers. I’ll only say at this point that we believe that the situation can be managed in such a way as to bring the price of rice , locally produced rice, down for the consumer in such as manner that would make it nes in such a manner as would make it unnecessary for them to want to consume instead the imported rice.”
According to the Prime Minister, Belize wishes to practice self-sufficiency in foodstuffs such as rice and so must be careful not to take the issue of leveling the playing field for prices too far.
“I have heard extremely intelligent, knowledgeable people say, ‘well we don’t really have a comparative advantage in rice, we should in fact agree to import and instead concentrate on corn and beans. We can sell corn, in great quantities to CARICOM and elsewhere. I understand the thinking behind that, but I don’t agree, I would have to be convinced. I don’t think we should, in any way comfortable with the notion of eliminating rice production locally. So we have to work with those produces to ensure that the consumer is not being short changed as it’s not clear the consumer has been. so that in seeking to prevent the importation of rice, we don’t have to make a choice between the interest of the consumer and the interest of the producer. “