By Marion Ali
Jack Charles, the businessman who imported 75 tons (150,000 pounds) of Guyanese Grade A white rice to retail for 69 cents per pound, must get the rice out of Belizean territory before January 26th, or lose his investment.
That is at least until he can get the phytosanitary certification he needs to import rice into the country.
At another closed-door session on Tuesday, Charles, through legal representation, opted to ask for time to arrange for the rice to be shipped out of Belize – a process he had indicated would take a month to do. Charles sought the Supreme Court’s intervention to overrule a decision that Senior Magistrate Sharon Fraser had made last week, to grant the Customs Department permission to destroy the grain. Charles’ attorneys sought for and got the “stay” until Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin could hear his final application.
Both sides came to an agreement in closed chambers and in an interview with reporters the following day, Prime Minster Dean Barrow explained that he, as the Minister of Finance, had given Charles his assurance that there is an easier way to allow him to take the rice out of Belize without any further court proceeding. But Charles, being the one who needs time to prepare his shipment, had to put it in writing.
“He was told that he needs to make a formal application to me as the Minister of Finance. Because there is the forfeiture order and unless the Supreme Court were to overturn that order, only the Minister of Finance can give you and opt out. He has agreed to do that…I’ve signaled that I am perfectly prepared to give him the forfeiture override so that he can get the rice out…it is a question of Mr. Charles having to go through the right procedure if he is to have any chance of being able to import rice,” Barrow said.
Barrow explained there is no rice war between Belize and Guyana and that Belize’s Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega and his ministry’s CEO, Jose Alpuche, were in Guyana meeting with their counterparts. He continued that the Belizean government’s interests lie in the protection of the local rice farmers and the local rice industry. He continued that, “even if no progress is produced there (in Guyana), there are mechanisms under the Treaty [of Chaguaramas] for us to make certain applications in terms of our need to protect the local rice industry.”
But under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) agreement, there is nothing to stop Charles from importing rice into Belize, once he goes about it following the proper procedure. CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, pointed out recently that sanitary and phytosanitary certificates cannot be used as a method to block or prevent the trade of goods among CARICOM countries.
Charles has maintained all along that he had applied from the Belize Agricultural Health Authorities (BAHA) for the requisite permit, but had not been granted one, nor was he offered a reason as to why it wasn’t granted. It is expected that Charles, who has racked up steep storage fees and accompanying reshipping fees now, will send the rice off to the Port of Honduras and await the necessary permits from BAHA for a new application he has placed, this time also for an additional shipment of rice from Guyana.