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#482891 - 01/14/14 03:51 AM Let There Be Cane! New Sugar Deal Signed!
Marty Offline
But first, to a story that's making national headlines tonight: the standoff in the sugar industry is officially over.

The cane farmers agreed to a compromise agreement on Sunday, and both sides signed the agreement an hour and a half ago. It's only an interim agreement, but it's a very major breakthrough because it allows for the beginning of the crop season in one week.

7News was at the signing which just finished a few minutes ago, and our team is heading back - we'll have that story for you a little later on.

Today, the Office of the Prime Minister released a statement congratulating both BSI and the cane farmers on reaching the compromise. The prime minister said, quote, "The Office of the Prime Minister is pleased that the Government's efforts in getting ASR/BSI to accept the obligation of paying for bagasse have helped with this breakthrough." End Quote.

How The Sugar Deal Almost Went Sour

And while today's signing was delayed by more than two hours - that has nothing on the marathon session yesterday - where the farmers had to all agree to move forward, though with a very uneasy truce. Daniel Ortiz found out that the farmers almost didn't agree - even though everything was on the line. Here's the report from San Roman in the Corozal District:..

Daniel Ortiz reporting
Hundreds of cane farmers attended the general membership meeting in San Narciso Village to hear from their association's executive about how far they've progressed in the bagasse dispute.

The men showed major interest, as they should, after all, they have held the country's sugar industry at a crossroads, a fact that they were very well aware of.

Their leaders faced them with all the cards laid on the table; they were seeking a mandate on whether to end the embargo and start to deliver the cane so that the season could start. For the latest developments, the executive of the association looked to their attorney to explain what has been happening behind the scenes since the breakthrough last week.

Christopher Coye - Attorney, BSFCA
"We had a meeting on the 23rd of December with BSI and certainly that didn't prove fruitful for any memorandum of understanding or any agreement in any manner whether on terms that had been proposed by the association or otherwise. On the 8th January when the representatives of both BSI and the association met, I think it was that final effort; that effort to put forward what the association and your membership wanted to get accomplished and agreed upon."

That meeting last week Wednesday was seen as the first really positive move forward since the bagasse stalemate first emerged. Both sides agreed essentially that the crop needed to start, so they began to compromise in good faith to allow an expedited resolution.

The first draft of the interim agreement reflected what BSI saw as the best outcome: a payment for bagasse, and no further need to delay the season, as a sort of industrial action.

Christopher Coye - Attorney, BSFCA
"There was a bullet point list of items for consideration and that is what is reflected in annex 1 in the document that you have before you; the proposal for an interim agreement; BSI will make payment for bagasse and that is where there were significant back and forth but ultimately it was made clear that it was not in terms drafted, it was not a provision that BSI would be committing to."

"In the first draft, because the cane farmers association believed that BSI had, this time, agreed to pay for bagasse, they placed item 3 on the agreement. It stated, "The crop would start on an agreed upon date and would proceed without interruption."

The farmers believed that the factory owners had back tracked a couple of steps, moving the goal post, so they did the same.

Christopher Coye - Attorney, BSFCA
"Item 3: that the crop would start upon an agreed date and proceed without interruption to completion. That was something that the association could not agree to because of the concern that industrial action - any efforts of industrial action by this provision would be restricted."

From annex 1 to annex 3, the final document that the farmers were to agree to at today's general meeting, there had been significant give and take from both sides to show good faith.

But the issue was still the commitment to pay for bagasse. Point #1 and #3 - which later became point #4 - had been altered from a definite payment, and a definite crop start, to a "maybe we'll pay", and a corresponding, "maybe we'll start".

Christopher Coye - Attorney, BSFCA
"In writing to the association BSI is saying that BSI fully intends to make payment for bagasse. Certainly, there is a subject to provision that says subject to negotiation of a new agreement. So, what this document now reflects from BSI is that intent. In the same way to say that I will, fully intends to means essentially the same thing. What is the caveat is that it is subject to negotiation."

"Item 4, you will see the difference between the BSI version and the association version. So there was a proposed modification via the association. The BSI version states that the crop would start on an agreed upon date and proceed without interruption to completion. The association's revised version provides that the crop would start on an agreed upon date and BSCFA is good faith fully intends to proceed with the crop without interruption to completion."

"In a large part that reflects the way that BSI revised the item 1 as far as payment for bagasse is concern."

So, now that there was still no actual commitment from BSI, the farmers were dissatisfied. They had been hopeful that BSI would have made a resolute commitment.

They saw the new position as a grudging concession; so they treated it as a ploy to try to trick them into starting the crop and surrendering their trump card.

Cane Farmer
"Mr. Coye, I have a question and the question is in the first sentence. In my short mind or in my short wisdom, is I read this to myself and I read it as follows: BSI in good faith intends to make a payment for bagasse. If I stop there, to me I understand that it will be a payment. That's in my short mind. Now what I want you to please describe to the general assembly the continuous of the sentence, it says "subject to negotiations of a no agreement.""

Christopher Coye - Attorney, BSFCA
"What that is saying is I intend to pay you, but I am not giving a commitment to pay. That is what this is saying. BSI has stated and restated that it cannot give a binding commitment to pay now. It can commit to the process. It can commit to the intent, but it cannot commit to a binding commitment to pay."

Alfredo Ortega - Vice Chair, BSCFA's CoM
"As you see there was a mixed feelings from farmers and many of them were of the same idea to remain vigilant and to not start a crop unless there is something clearly signed by BSI."

The revelation that BSI still wasn't prepared to commit to payment, despite the farmers standing firm to delay the crop so long, then sparked a debate as to the company's genuine intent.

It then led to another back and forth on whether they should continue or not. That went back, and forth… and back again… and… forth once more.

That went on for almost 4 hours. But after a long day of that extended commentary, which had since degenerated into threats of continued industrial action, Ortega made an intervention and an appeal to reason, which won them over in the end.

Alfredo Ortega - Vice Chair, BSCFA's CoM
"The final motion that was passed by the farmers is that yes they approved the interim agreement that would be signed with BSI and that we will be sitting with BSI tomorrow in the afternoon to sign that agreement and thereafter we will be signing a date for the start of a crop."

Another major break in the resolve of some of the cane farmers is the fact that they have bills, bank commitments, and families to feed.

Those farmers cannot and are not able to endure the hardship of an indefinitely suspended season.

Hernan Villas - Chairman, BSCFA
"Everything is expensive and really the only help that we got in that area is the papaya company in that area, but cane farmers have children in college and so we can support it until maybe the end of January, but after that we would have to start crop."

Alfredo Ortega - Vice Chair, BSCFA's CoM
"Each farmer is really in a hurdle at this time, but they are trying to mitigate the situation."

And so all that led to this afternoon in Orange Walk where - as we mentioned a while ago - the interim agreement was signed - agreeing to start the season next week Monday at ten am.

Here's a rough cut of what both sides had to say 40 minutes ago at the BSI Staff Club when that signing was completed:..

Joey Montalvo, CEO - BSI
"I am particularly pleased that we signed today and I think we now must focus on the crop, getting the crop off the ground. We have a late start and we have a big crop to mill."

"We must also focus on the negotiations coming ahead as well to finalize that and also I want to say this hasn't really slowed ASR/BSI's plans for expansion. We need both the field and mill; we need to focus on getting the economic pie bigger. There is great scope for expansion."

And hopefully, that will be our last story on the sugar standoff, in a while. But there are still immediate problems, mainly the sugar roads, and we'll have the latest on the woeful condition of those roads a little later on in the news.

Channel 7

#483028 - 01/15/14 03:31 AM Re: Let There Be Cane! New Sugar Deal Signed! [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Cane Compromise Imperfect, But It’ll work

Last night, the news was that after a protracted and bitter dispute, the cane farmers and BSI finally agreed to put aside their differences for the time being, and start the cane season.

Like all compromises hatched in the hurly burly of an industrial dispute, the resolution to move forward is an imperfect one. It was signed at 6:00pm, so last night, we were only able to provide you with a rough outline of what's in the final deal. Tonight, Daniel Ortiz revisits the signing from yesterday, and tries to put it in context of entire bagasse standoff:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
The executives of both BSI and the cane farmers association arrived at the Staff Club about a half hour later than expected. That's after the meeting was pushed back another hour and a half. For a season that was already delayed for 2 months, what was another 2 hours, right?

It must have been the fact that it was pretty much a done deal that the sense of urgency was put aside.

The last hurdle, as we showed you, was getting the farmers to sign on. Tough as it was, the association got them to see reason, and they threw in their support at the final hour of the Sunday meeting.

Both sides entered into the meeting area, and after a brief discussion about the document, both sides signed the interim agreement.

The bagasse issue is still unsettled, but commitments to resolve it are good enough for the cane deliveries to start.

Joey Montalvo - CEO, BSI
"I am particularly pleased that we signed today and I think we now must focus on the crop, getting the crop off the ground. We have a late start and we have a big crop to mill."

"We must also focus on the negotiations coming ahead as well to finalize that."

That signing last night got all the pomp and pageantry it deserved. The undercurrent, the issue no one really wanted to address, however, was the fact that the farmers have agreed to an uneasy truce.

They are taking BSI's word for it that these negotiations will be done amicably.

Joey Montalvo - CEO, BSI
"It's basically moving from a position of no payment to a position of that we will consider payment and then negotiate the payment. During the process of negotiating we will determine the payment and then we will make the payment. That's basically where we are."

Daniel Ortiz
"While it is a positive move forward, almost never happened because some farmers who wanted to press further because they believe that BSI isn't giving that commitment and as a result they feel as if though BSI isn't serious about this bagasse issue."

Joey Montalvo - CEO, BSI
"Well we never played games. I think it was serious from the start that we said we would consider; we would negotiate the quantum and then commit to a payment. I think there has been a great misunderstanding. There has been some confusion, but I think that the time will tell where we are going to be towards the end of the crop once we have determined the quantum that there will be a payment. I think these things are inevitable; you won't get everybody to be happy. There is quite a lot of misinformation sometimes; in fact even I believe the media is responsible for some of that."

So, since the "misinformation" is cleared up, how good is their commitment to fully resolve this dispute?

Joey Montalvo - CEO, BSI
"Good faith is really a statement of honest intent and it is sort of standard to use the words good faith in agreement such as the one that we signed today and so that what it is; a statement of honest intent."

The Government of Belize has already started work on fixing the sugar roads, and the date agreed upon for the first cane deliveries is next week Monday, January 20, at 10 a.m.

Channel 7


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