By Benjamin Flowers
The stevedores working at the Port of Belize Limited, frustrated with negotiations, staged a strike this week, which cost Belize’s economy millions of dollars in terms of business sales and tax-generated revenue losses.
The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) reported that because ships left without unloading their cargo and others sit in Belizean waters waiting to see if they will be unloaded, both the import and export sectors lost money and will continue to lose, unless the impasse is resolved.
The Chamber said companies such as Grace Kennedy Belize, Benny’s, Save-U, Brodies, and MIRAB stand to be affected by not getting their goods. The usually high economic activity during the Christmas season will only serve to raise those losses.
Nickito Usher, group marketing and sales manager for Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL), explained that CPBL exports its products through two methods, container and tanker. Usher said at the time of the strike on Monday, CPBL had already loaded two tankers for export. The contents of each tanker, Usher explained, are worth around US$51,000 each.
The tankers are also not refrigerated and lose their cooling at a rate of one degree per day, meaning that any delay runs the risk of deteriorating the product.
“What CPBL had to do was unload those tankers, take them back to our facility and re-freeze them to prepare for another ship,” Usher said. “Between the labour cost, power cost and transportation cost, we’re looking at between US $8,000-$9,000 per container.”
He added that during the strike, another ship scheduled for Belize, which had five tankers to be loaded, turned back. The loss of income from that ship totalled at US $255,000.
Raymond Barkman, general manager at Quality Poultry, explained that when a ship left on Monday without unloading its cargo, Quality did not receive its Christmas shipment of turkeys, not only making them scarce this Christmas season, but potentially costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Even if we manage to get them after Christmas, we won’t be able to sell them all,” Barkman said. “We’ve been through things like this before, but this one is different. Belize’s whole economy is in trouble this time.”
The Chamber has called on the Port of Belize and the stevedores to resume negotiations and operations before further economic damage is caused.