By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
A series of radio advertisements by businessman Jack Charles (Jitendra Chawla), offering an alternative on the local market to sell Guyanese rice at significantly cheaper prices, have spawned prompt reaction from the Belize Agro-productive Sector Group, who countered with a press release on Friday.
The organization says Belizeans ought to ask hard questions about what they suggest are hidden agendas.
“While rice at 69 cents per pound sounds like good news to consumers, Belizeans need to ask the hard questions. How many Belizean farms, farmers, farmhands, millers and distribution workers will join the unemployment line as another agricultural product, Belizean rice, is removed from the products we produce here in Belize?” the release challenged.
It goes on to state that there are almost 100 local rice farmers, five milling companies, and more than 2000 field workers, employees, distributors, and their families who are bound to suffer some level of loss if Charles is allowed to import cheaper rice for sale.
“Guyanese rice will support ONE importer and a handful of distribution workers,” the release continues. “Why is one importer interested and actively pursuing the importation of rice, when Belize is already self-sufficient in rice?”
The rice producers puts forth a set of questions, and deny that local rice farmers have been guilty of price gouging, inflating production costs, while registering huge profits.
“Why does he (Charles) not join us and grow cheaper rice here in Belize? Why does he not invest in the industry here and put hundreds of Belizeans to work, instead of just a few people to distribute his Guyanese rice? Why is Guyanese rice in other countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad and Jamaica sold in the SAME price range that Belizean rice is currently sold here in Belize? Can the importer sustain this cheap rice over the long haul?”
Local rice producers claim that the cost of rice production is higher than in most countries, but that their retail price is far below their counterparts in Central American and the CARICOM.
The rice producers point to the millions of dollars in loss of revenue in business tax, in areas of fuel, equipment, chemicals, fertilizer, seed, rice milling, packaging, and distribution if Charles is allowed to import rice for sale.
The rice producers argue that “imported rice at 69 cents per pound is UNSUSTAINABLE for the long term. This low price is a ploy to have Guyanese rice enter the Belizean market. When our already stressed local rice industry becomes extinct, imported rice will then become more expensive with little to no benefit to Belizeans except to the importer!”
The rice producers say there is a matter of urgency for discussion on the issue to begin. “Let’s bring cheaper rice to Belizeans while simultaneously ensuring that thousands of people remain employed. It is time to reduce our Import Export deficit. It’s time to be talking about exporting rice, not importing it!”