Will Santander be fined for the violation of its Export Processing Zone license? Over the past two weeks, various stake holders have pitched in on the issue, including the 3 cane farmers associations. The associations are demanding that Santander face the maximum penalty available for their violation, and that the Government’s EPZ committee reject their application to have a share of the local sugar market. Yesterday, Minster of Trade Tracy Panton was straight forwardly asked if Santander will be fined. Here is how she responded.
Hon. Tracy Panton, Minister of State, Investment, Trade: The government has not sided at all with the multinational, I don’t know where that sentiment comes from. There is a process that we need to take so that we can gather all the relevant information about what happened and how it happened so the appropriate action can be taken against the person who did wrong. Santander had no permission or permit or waver from the government to sell any of its products on the local market. It violated its EPZ status when it did that and so the EPZ committee will meet. The evidence is obviously glaring against Santander but we have to allow the process to take place. We have listened to the cane farmers associations; in fact my CEO is in the north currently having meetings. We will speak with all stakeholders. The sugar sector is a very important economic sector for the country of Belize and we can’t ignore that. Santander contributes to the export earnings from sugar to Belize and so we’re trying to be fair to all parties concerned in particular to our farmers.
Reporter: What effect are you able to say this violation of the EPZ, will that have or can play into the approval, the final approval of the application that’s in front of the EPZ committee?
Hon. Tracy Panton, Minister of State, Investment, Trade: You see I can’t speak for the EPZ committee. I know that the ministry itself will provide its recommendations based on its findings and clearly there is a violation and a very serious violation and that I am sure will be taken into account by the committee.
Reporter: Will they be fined? There was a clear violation, I would imagine that there are repercussions or punishments that they should face as a result of this violation. Will they be fined?
Hon. Tracy Panton, Minister of State, Investment, Trade: There are repercussions, they will be fined, there will be other sanctions against Santander but I need to give the committee its room and time to do its work.
.You will also recall that on Tuesday, opposition Leader John Briceno addressed the Santander violation issue. He made it clear that he supports the ways in which Santander has contributed to the Belizean economy, while he strongly condemns their EPZ licenses violation. In the same breath, Briceno took a shot at the Ministry of Trade when he strongly urged the Minister in charge do more to ensure that all Belizean sugar is exported to CARICOM market. Panton responded to those comments made by the Opposition leader.
Hon. Tracy Panton, Minister of State, Investment, Trade: The leader of the opposition suggested that the government needs to do more to ensure that there’s market access for Belize sugar in CARICOM. There is market access; there has always been market access at duty free rates. So, what I think he was trying to get at was greater market penetration into the Caribbean. I want you to know that for the last three months or so, there’s a very active committee, which included B.S.I./A.S.R., which has included Santander, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Trade, been trying to have greater market penetration in CARICOM for Belizean sugar. There are standards that we need to meet. There is a quality that we need to meet and also there is the issue of competitive pricing, so we have been in active discussions at COTED which is the trade committee of CARICOM, in which we are trying not only for Belize sugar, but Jamaica, Barbados and other sugar producing countries in the region so that we can have higher tariffs for sugar that is coming outside of the region because sugar is such an important part of our national economy.
. A decision has still not been made as to the fines Santander will be facing.