P.M. says sugar impasse can be resolved

It is another day of waiting in the sugar industry. Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI), the sugar producer, having cured the offending sentence in clause 2.3 of the agreement, restoring the Sugar Cane Production Committee (SCPC) as arbiter of procedures for determining cane quality, is, pending approval from international partners American Sugar Refining (ASR), to send back the revised draft to the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) for their approval on Tuesday.

As of newstime there had been nothing on that front, but Prime Minister Dean Barrow in updating reporters said that after another long night being broker between the two parties, he is cautiously optimistic about an agreement signing and cane crop starting before the end of the year.

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vlcsnap-2014-12-24-05h02m52s123Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“What appears to me to be the single remaining point of contention is one that I feel can be resolved.  In terms of the conversation I had with Mr. Montalvo last night, and again this morning, just before 10 o’ clock, I say in very cautious fashion that I believe we are closer to a resolution, certainly than we were yesterday and over the weekend, when my break away from Belize was in fact interupted, in terms of  my having to be in constant touch, given what had developed.”

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According to the Prime Minister, BSI overlooked the 2010 memorandum of understanding that first set up the tripartite method of industry oversight, where it was first agreed that the SCPC would be final judge in disputes such as these. Under that agreement BSI did not have a right to reject cane deliveries.

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Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I’ve heard BSI say that that launguage is a reflection of what was always  there in the historical agreement between the two sides. That may well be so. I believe I saw a specific reference to a 2002 agreement. But what BSI omitted to mention is that in 2010, when government intervened to try and rescue the industry and to forge what became a tripartite agreement captured in a memorandum of understanding, a protocol was established to deal with this question of cane quality. That was when the SCPC was in fact formed and mandated to supervise this process.

So whatever might have been the position in 2002, those that are far more familiar with the industry than I am tell me that in any case on the ground operationally there had been a departure from the 2002 agreement.”

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The P.M. said that if things go as he expects, the agreement can be ratified by the BSCFA’s directors, so there will be no need for additional emergency meetings for the whole BSCFA membership to approve the agreement again, as they already have. He also defended the deal as an example of foremost compromise.

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Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“The farmers, very clearly, made some concessions.  I said, right at the start, when it appeared to me that a breakthrough had occurred, that they demonstrated tremendous flexibility, but given all that was involved, given how important the crop and the industry are to the farmers. given that  absent BSI/ BSCFA you won’t have an industry.

It struck me that the concessions they made were not concessions that in fact cost them too dear. 

With respect to BSI, they got by way of the draft agreement the longevity, the predictability, the certainty that they said they needed.  They also undertook to make the kind of investment in the industry, including both in terms of capacity expansions, where the building process  is concerned,  but also in terms of assisting the farmers to increase productivity, to get better yields.  They undertook to make that sort of additional investment as the quid pro quo for the farmers agreeing to, on the face of it, a seven year deal.

So altogether, indeed I did think that we reached a point where the compromise ended up being fair to both sides, and being fair to Belize.”

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The Prime Minister said a decision to leave the Negotiating Team for the BSCFA out of a directors’ meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Government representative Gaspar Vega was mainly an Association call, and did not affect the negotiations manifestly. He also decried the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB)’s attempts to intervene to secure a fairer deal for farmers as “irresponsible”, in similar language to that used by BSI executive Belizario Carballo in an interview with CTV-3 News in Orange Walk aired Monday night.
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