By Marion V. Ali
The price of white sugar will increase from 50 cents to 75 cents on new Year’s Day. A Statutory Instrument has been signed, making the new price legal in Belize.
The increase follows a cane farmers’ request and Government’s approval in lieu of reduced payments on the world market for a ton of cane, set by the European Union.
The Bureau of Standards, the regulatory body for commodities in Belize, stated in a press release this week: “Effective January 1, 2016, Plantation White Sugar will retail at a maximum price of 75 cents per pound countrywide.” This means no supermarket or shopkeeper may sell white sugar for more than 75 cents per pound.
The Bureau of Standards has warned merchants to not increase their price until New Year’s Day. It also quotes Sections 15 and 16 of the Supplies Control Regulations, which require merchants to publicly display a list of items and their approved maximum retail prices, as well as clearly labeling and pricing these commodities.
The Bureau also informs consumers that there is enough sugar currently countrywide, so no shopkeeper should claim sugar is scarce. Grocers are warned that hoarding sugar until January first in order to gain higher profits off old stock is a violation of the Supplies Control Price Regulations. Any such offense may result in imprisonment for a term not exceeding six (6) months, a fine of one thousand dollars ($1000.00), or both. In addition, the Bureau advises that the price of brown sugar should not be affected by the changes.
The mark-up represents a 50 percent increase, from 50 cents, but it is also only half of what cane farmers were requesting. They had asked for 100 percent increase, for the price to go from 50 cents to $1 per pound.
The Belize Sugar Industries/American Sugar Refinery, operators of the Tower Hill sugar factory, have welcomed the price increase, noting that sugar prices in Belize have been the lowest in the region for more than 10 years . They point to the hoarding and smuggling of truckloads of sugar to Guatemala, where it is sold for much more than in Belize.
On Tuesday, BSI issued a revised cane price estimate to cane farmer associations for this crop and informed that as a result of the increase, the first cane payment will now be $36.65 per ton, as opposed to the $35.33 per ton worked out before. The overall payment per ton is actually $41.56, which has now been adjusted to $45.25 with the price increase.
BSI says while the increase “was less than expected by farmers as a result of the government’s decision not to extend the increase to brown sugar … the increase will be of great benefit to the industry, and signals the first time in almost 15 years.”
BSI justified the request for the increase on four grounds, including that it will, or should, “eliminate the incentive for illegal cross-border trade in sugar given the material price differential between Belize and our neighboring countries.”