Cane farmers hold-out will lead to sugar shortage

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

The Belize Sugar Factory, owned by the American Sugar Refineries group (ASR) only has enough sugar in its warehouse to supply the country until the end of January, BSI personnel the explained this week.

Director of Cane Farmer Relations for ASR/BSI, Olivia Aviles, said this week that if the impasse between the company and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) does not end quickly, the country will face a shortage of local-produced sugar.

“We know that shops have some stored up, but that won’t last very long. We can only hope we arrive at an agreement, and soon,” she said.

Aviles added that the impasse also presents a more urgent problem for the cattle farming industry since molasses, which is used to make cattle feed, is close to depletion also and will not last to the end of January.

As the supply of local sugar dries up, Belizeans can expect to see a sharp spike in other prices, similar to what occurred with limes and sweet pepper in mid-2014.
The general assembly of the BSCFA in November last year approved a resolution for their directors to begin lobbying for an increase in the price of local sugar, which comes under price control regulations.

The 2014-2015 sugar season should have started in November, but due to several issues with negotiations, the BSCFA and ASR/BSI were unable to arrive at a commercial purchasing agreement.

Despite government intervention, the parties have been unsuccessful in their negotiations and the association now seeks a writ of mandamus from the court to force the Sugar Industry Control Board to declare a start-up date for the crop in accordance with the Sugar Cane Industry (Control) Act, Chapter 238 of the Laws of Belize.

But even though the Sugar Industry Control Board is authorized by law to set a start-up date for the grinding season, it has no constraining power to act unilaterally to bind either cane farmers or the factory when there is no consensus among the parties, a government spokesman points out.

If this matter goes to court, the court will most likely opt for more mediation before it decides on any other option.

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