Sugar partners finally agree on commercial contract

It is subject to the approval of the membership of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) at an emergency meeting scheduled for Sunday, but after a round of meetings between Prime Minister Dean Barrow and executives of American Sugar Refining (ASR) and Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) on Thursday, and again Friday morning between those parties and BSCFA executives, what appears to be a final agreement covering the commercial relationship between the producers of Belize’s sugar products and their suppliers was concluded.

It was not an occasion for celebration; the formalities are yet to be observed and it could yet all be derailed. Like many compromises, each side did not get all they wanted, but they must now put the hard feelings behind them to co-exist and get in what is expected to be a bumper crop.

Prime Minister Barrow and his deputy Gaspar Vega told reporters that a new feature of the agreement is an exit clause for the BSCFA, if a strategic development plan for the industry is not agreed on.

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vlcsnap-2014-12-13-09h23m39s169Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“There is a requirement that the strategic development plan for the industry, which would include BSI’s investment plan, so that farmers can be certain that there will be capacity increases and there will be assistance in terms of they’re seeking to get greater yields from their farms.

The seven year agreement is going to reference the fact of the need for the Strategic Development Plan, which included the investment plan, to be concluded within a year.  If that Strategic Development Plan, including the investment plan, is not concluded within a year, the farmers, the BSCFA, would then have a right to withdraw from the agreement at year three.”

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The P.M. gave the Minister of Agriculture a majority of the credit for the grunt work in bringing the two sides to compromise, if not yet full agreement, saying he played mostly a relief role. The major bones of contention were the issue of bagasse payments and concurrently, ownership of the sugar cane. BSCFA wanted the right to set the tone of negotiations over usage of by-products like bagasse, while BSI argued it was they who held ownership rights. That seems to be settled largely in favour of BSI: the farmers accepted the 51-cent-per-ton price set by BSI and cede ownership, subject to a review of BSI’s accounts in relation to BELCOGEN, the co-generation energy project which uses the bagasse.

It will be a hard sell for the fiercely proud and independent farmers, but it is necessary to get the crop going, according to BSCFA chairman Ezequiel Cansino.

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vlcsnap-2014-12-13-09h37m58s168vlcsnap-2014-12-13-09h27m31s208Ezequies Cansino – BSCFA Chairman

“We believe that there is a need to start the crop,  and the proposals that we give to ASR, let’s say it’s the best that we can give them, and we will try to present it to the cane farmers as it is for the best of everybody in the sugar industry.”.

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Ezequiel Cansino admits he will be counting down the hours until Sunday’s meeting, when all he has worked for could be on the line. But BSI is not doing much celebrating or gloating either.

ASR’s vice-president for international relations, Mac Maclachlan, indicated that the producers are looking forward to easing strained relations in the industry.

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vlcsnap-2014-12-13-09h41m10s190Mac MacLachlan – Vice President, International Relations, ASR

“We are very committed to this industry. We remain committed to this industry. One of the really excellent points, I think,  that has come out of this discussion is the need for all industry stakeholders to come together next year, and to discuss a strategic development plan for the industry. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long period of time.

So we’re very pleased that provided this agreement is signed to move forward, we’ll  be able to do that next year, and we can look at the roles and responsibilities of all parties, in taking forward a proper strategic look at the industry, and how we can make it sustainable, and I think that’s the really important factor that we’re looking forward to working on constructively in a committed way.”

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All eyes now turn to Escuela Mexico at San Roman, Corozal, for the day of decision.

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