On Monday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his deputy and Minister of Agriculture Gaspar Vega along with other Government officials met with representatives of Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) and its partner American Sugar Refining (ASR) in Belize City. The purpose was to convey the position of the Government as previously outlined that sugar cane farmers in the North should receive a payment for BSI’s use of bagasse. The positions of BSI/ASR and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) are very clear: the former believe bagasse is not a by-product and therefore not assigned a value, the latter believe it is and should be. After the 2-hour meeting, the Prime Minister told reporters that ASR’s principals must meet to respond to the official position.
“Our position to ASR, they will now reflect on that, consult among themselves and give us an answer in the shortest possible time, without actually saying tomorrow or the day after-they said they will get to us in te shortest possible time”.
Reporter: “So, is ASR still sticking to its position that bagasse is not a bi-product to sugar cane?
Hon. Dean Barrow: “They will give us an answer an answer on Opposition, and you know what the Opposition is. So, until they give us that answer, I can’t say what the mindset is. They listened to us; we had a frank discussion, but I don’t even know if those that are here, can make a decision on their own. I believe there are other principles with whom they must speak before they must give us a final answer”.
It has been estimated that the crop ideally should start by December 15 in order to reduce losses on both sides. With the Government not willing to begin the process of rehabilitating sugar roads until it is certain there will be a crop, it has become clear that that date will have to be scrapped.
Hon. Dean Barrow: “I am not sure about December 15th. If you talk to the expert people Deputy and the Minister Pott, who is a cane farmer, they will tell you that that may well be a vain hope. The experts will tell you and sub-close content and what the weather conditions have done so, I don’t seek December 15th is on any way you look at it”.
The Prime Minister insisted that the lack of a decision on Monday is not any suggestion that ASR has hardened its position, and said it was only to be expected since the key decision makers are not in town but back in the U.S. One of the men who will have to convey the news is ASR’s vice president for technical services Ricardo Lima, who kept his comments short, but not necessarily sweet, when reporters caught up with him.
‘We continue to try to find the way to bring the farmers back to the table; that’s basically what I wanted to say”.
Prime Minister Barrow said that there will be at least 2 other meetings between himself and either side before the two can finally be brought together. It is clear that the date for the opening of crop is now hanging in the air like smoke from the Tower Hill factory.