By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
Rice was one of the topics which the House discussed on Friday in Belmopan.
The PUP’s Orange Walk South Area Representative, Abelardo Mai, who was the general manager at the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation which ensures the availability of basic food commodities, did not support the notion of having imported rice on our shelves.
“If we allow rice to be imported, thousands may lose their jobs. Hundreds of families will be left out in the cold and investments in the millions will be lost. I cannot imagine the social and economic disaster. We cannot allow rice to be imported from Guyana. No sensible government, PUP or UDP, or no P at all, should allow the importation of rice from Guyana or from any other country that subsidies its production. At this time, we have rice to last us for three years. How in the world can the Belizean farmer compete with Guyana producers, when the latter have the full backing of their government?”
While the government has not yet allowed businessman, Jack Charles to import rice, on Friday, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington said they can’t really stop Charles because of the Treaty of Chaguaramas that Belize shares with CARICOM.
“I find it incomprehensible that in fact the Guyanese are able to land rice here at 60 cents or 63 cents a pound in sacks and we cannot produce it for less than 80 cents. It’s a CARICOM sister nation. We are competing against that CARICOM sister nation and certainly, it is the entitlement that the Belizean public to get the cheapest rice from CARICOM. I am sounding a warning Mr. Speaker, because I know that our government will do all in our power to protect our local industries and our local people, but I can tell you very readily, that there are only certain things that we have control over. And if in fact business people in our country have the right under our treaty obligations with the Caribbean to import rice at a cheaper price, our government may not be able to help them and stop them from doing it.”
Rice became a hot-button issue last week when Jack Charles said he could import rice from Guyana that would save consumers between 30 and 50 cents per pound, depending on the current variation of prices.
Rice producers claim they are not the ones responsible for the high price of rice, but merchants who have ignored the control price.
Earlier in the week Prime Minister Dean Barrow had basically suggested his government needs to find some middle ground between not underminding local producers, while trying still giving Charles the chance to import. Barrow admitted that the price of locally produced rice appears to be a bit steeper than is necessary.
Jack Charles has also indicated that he will rely on the Treaty of Chaguaramas to acquire his import permit.