Controversy over the importation of cheap rice from the Republic of Guyana, has hit Belize like a ton of bricks. Opinion over whether to buy or not to buy the cheaper rice is sharply divided. Most of the people who support Belizean rice say the cheaper rice will destroy or seriously hurt the emerging rice industry in Belize.
The Government of Belize finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Under the Treaty of Chaguaramas, Belize became a member of the Caribbean Common Market (Caricom).Our obligation under this treaty requires us to give preferential treatment to Caricom producers whenever we buy.
There are two things we must understand about Guyanese rice. It is of good quality, and it is not being “dumped” on Belize as some have suggested.
Guyana has developed a rational rice policy which allows her to sell her rice cheaper than most countries. She can sell cheaper for two reasons: Her rice fields are extensive and efficient. Secondly the Guyana foreign exchange rate hovers around G200 to US 1. This enables Belize to buy the value of 100 Guyanese dollars with one of ours.
This low exchange rate permits Guyana to find ready markets for its agriculture (rice and sugar) and its mining products (bauxite and gold). It isn’t dumping! It’s a monetary policy which Guyana has pursued for many years now. This policy forces the Guyanese people to produce more at home and to consume what they produce, because imported goods are too expensive.
If Belize did not have a rice industry to protect, we would be happy to buy from Guyana. A few years ago, when the Belize rice crop failed due to drought, we did buy our rice from Guyana.
But it makes a lot of sense for Belize to have our own rice industry today, because one of our chief development goals is to be able to feed ourselves. Moreover our agricultural policy does double duty: it helps to feed Belizeans and also helps to keep them employed.
The people of Belize understand the importance of the rice industry, just as they understand the importance of the sugar industry. Recently they were asked to accept a 50 per-cent increase in the price of local white sugar, and they have done so without complaint.
If they are willing to accept the going price of the local rice, that’s the end of the story! Cheaper rice may indeed provide a price advantage, but it comes with a heavy backlash.