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#502704 - 03/27/15 11:20 AM Rice Producers Say High Prices Aren’t Their Fault
Marty Offline

"Check Your Corner Grocery for Gouging"

Will the price of the rice you buy from the store go down? Importer Jack Charles says that he can import Guyanese rice that can be retailed for as little as 69 cents per pound, 50 cents cheaper than the current price. But Government isn't prepared to give him the green light to import because of the effect it will have on the local rice producing industry.

Charles says those producers are gouging customers with a high mark up because they have a monopoly on the Belizean market. He says that if he is allowed to bring in cheap Guyanese rice, it would drive down the price you pay for a pound of rice.

Well, the local rice producers decided to go public today to tell the customers that Charles has it all wrong. They say they're not the ones taking advantage of consumers, it's the retailers - your neighborhood grocer - who is price gouging. They held a press conference today where Dr. Henry Canton, the president of the Agro-Productive Sector explained that position today:

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"Rice has a price control of 90 cents, whether it's wholesale or retail - it's still debatable. By word of mouth, we understand its 90 cents per pound is a wholesale price. Most of the rice coming out or the hands of these gentlemen is price controlled and right now as we speak, rice is being sold below the 90 cents, which is the price control and in fact rice is being offered right now currently I think out of Spanish Lookout community as low as 84 cents. There is a surplus of rice even in our country. So, it's not that we are "gouging." The word "gouging" is being used and I want to be very clear in removing that word "gouging." What happens to us with rice, is that when we sell it in a hundred pound bag and most of our bags are labeled from where it is coming. That rice is then taken into the retailers' house and repackaged. We don't know - plastic bags - you go and you buy it. They tell you 9 pounds, it might be 8 pounds - nobody ever checks it and it is sold at $1.20 - $1.25. So what is happening with our rice, is that we are selling it within the confines of the price control, but then we have a mark-up for public transportation etc. and then a further mark-up going into the retail market and that's where, if you really look at it, that's where the discrepancy in who gets the lion share of the mark that comes out."

"We feel that we are being scrutinized on price control and how much we are producing it for. But nobody is really scrutinizing - once they buy it from us - how the mark-up structure is put in place."

Arturo "Tux" Vasquez - President, Belize Chamber of Commerce Industry
"While they may not be able to stop the importation of rice, I think we need to look at the long term and I think government do have a responsibility of protecting the producers. I know that they have been working together to see how best they can produce at a cheaper price, but I think that negotiations continues. However, the Chamber really is lobbies for its members, but it keeps of course, consideration on the consumer as well and I think the bottom line here really is as Dr. Canton has mentioned also is, there is a price control on the productive side of the thing, but not on the retail side and I think that's really where the problem is. You can sell rice for whatever price you want, I understand."

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"Agro-productive Sector is visited more than you believe. We live with BAHA and we live with everybody else, because we are the easiest people for them to come to. It's more difficult for them to go to every little shop and check the change. So, the first person they come to, is the biggest person...let me audit."

Government has refused to issue a permit to importer Jack Charles - who has half a million pounds of rice waiting to be shipped from Guyana.

He finds that position puzzling since the Government allowed the local producers to import just over 3 million pounds from Guyana last year.

Today, the rice producers explained that what happened last year was an emergency situation because of a drought affecting the Blue Creek rice farmers. And so they had to import from Guyana to avoid a local shortage:

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"A year ago, somewhere in early 2014 and I can speak to it because I was an integral part of it - the rice community realized that there was going to be a shortage of rice, because in that year, Spanish Lookout had a good crop of rice, but Blue Creek had a drought and in fact their rice crop failed. So, we realized that somewhere going into off-season rice that we may have had a problem with supplying the country of Belize consistently with rice. That rice when it came in, came in as bulk rice, not bagged rice. So, it had to be off loaded in bulk. It was then taken to Blue Creek, transportation cost from the ship to Blue Creek. It had to be reprocessed and Stanley can share with you pictures of what that rice looked like when it came and what he found in it; fortified iron, in screws and nails."

Daniel Ortiz
"The invoice says Guyana White Rice, which means that it's already processed - all the work has been done on it and it was supposedly ready to be consumed. Why is it that you are saying that it had to be reprocessed and it had to be repackaged?"

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"Everybody that buys rice, don't like to buy in sacks. They want to sell you bulk, because it's cheaper on shipping and everything else. When that rice is loaded into the ship, even rats and everything else can go into that ship and that's why it had to be reprocessed."

Stanley Rempel - General Manager, Circle R Products
"Yes. That rice was imported as bulk white rice. We could have put that rice on the market, but we have to keep in mind that we would like to guarantee a product that the consumer accepts. We can't just put whatever product on the shelf and expect the consumer to buy it. We have pictures, if you want to see it of what all came out of that rice. First of all, there was a lot of shells in the rice, which had to be taken out. We have buckets of screws and nails and rocks and dirt and filth that came out, that I am sure no consumer would like to see in their bag of rice."

Jerry Friezen - Rice Farmer, Spanish Lookout
"The local is a very premium rice and so, there was a huge expense in processing that to the standards that we have in place. So, yes, if you are satisfied with the grade that it is brought in, imported it could make money if they would sell it for the same premium price that our rice is."

And while it's interesting to know that what we thought was local rice was really from Guyana - none of this discussion or disclosure would be happening if Jack Charles didn't decide to go public with his plan to drive down prices by importing from Guyana.

That rice was imported by the Belize Marketing And Development Corporation, for a price of 63 cents per pound. Then to get the rice, the local importers had to purchase it from the BMDC for an additional 6 cents per pound. They then packaged that rice in local bags such as the Circle R Products packaging, and sold it for the control price of 90 cents per pound. That means they made an average profit of about 21 cents per bag. Still you paid their price, giving the local producers 21 cents in profit, and an additional 30 cents to the shops. Bottom line? The consumers still didn't benefit from the cheap imported rice, which they didn't even know about, so today we asked the local producers why they didn't disclose this information to the public before now. Here's how they answered:

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"So, yes the Guyanese rice was repackage, but it was reprocessed, repackaged and sent into the market. Guyanese rice was brought in through the Marketing Board (BMDC). We bought from BMDC. We paid $6.00 for 100 pounds to bring it in. Yes, maybe in hindsight now we should have made a statement on it, but I think if we are to be guilty on that, then BMDC also should have been guilty in not declaring that we had to import to meet a shortfall."

"The rice we brought in was rice that we had to bring in that fitted within the category of the price that we were selling rice for at that point in time and that's why you didn't see any dance within the price of rice. But if you say we didn't labeled it Guyanese, mea culpa, but I think that point in time BMDC should have said also that we had this stipulation or regulation that we should have been informed. Next time that won't happen. Next time guarantee us that if we ever have to bring back in again, I will be the first person to sit in front of you and say this is what we are experiencing and this is how we are going to handle it."

So, what does all of this mean for you the consumer? Well, the producers say that the retailers are the culprits. They are calling on the government agencies responsible for consumer protection and price control to rein in the price gouging by the shop owners:

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"We are not the retailers. We are the producers. We are not the ones that are creaming. It's the retailers; the people that buy at 90 cents and are selling at $1.25 that are creaming. For some reason out there is this image that it's the gentlemen that are growing that are making all the money. The people who are making the money are the same people who do the importation trick. What we are asking is look at us when it comes to price control from the productive side, but start looking at the man that's selling it. Is it 10, 9 or 8 pounds in that plastic bag that you are buying? Is he buying at 90 cents and selling at $1.25 - that's a hell of a mark-up, when we are only making 5 or 10 cents on our pound of rice. It's not us that are gouging."

Daniel Ortiz
"If I understand clearly what you guys mentioned today, it appears to be regulation issue for the local retailers, where whichever government entity is responsible for consumer protection and price regulation - they haven't been doing their jobs. It seems that you said that without saying that you aren't responsible."

Dr. Henry Canton - Chair, Belize Agro-productive Sector
"I will say that openly. I say, the same way you check, check the market place."

This evening, importer Jack Charles sent a press release saying quote, "I am convinced...that competition results in a stronger and sustainable national industry. This can be achieved by allowing a small percentage of the total rice consumed in Belize, to be imported as an act of good faith and in respect to our obligations under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and continue to serve as a check and balance for our rice producers, not to abuse the Price Control mechanisms."

He ends by going into full Robin Hood mode, saying, "Finally, I would like to apologize to the public for having overlooked the rice prices earlier last year and in previous years, which could have resulted in savings of several millions of dollars to Belizean rice consumers."

Channel 7


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#502860 - 04/01/15 10:20 AM Re: Rice Producers Say High Prices Aren’t Their Fault [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Streets And Store Aisles On The Price Of Rice

For over a week we've been reporting on the price of rice - and the prospect of importing cheap Guyanese rice. That would drive shelf prices down and amount to major savings for shoppers - but, the government says, it would also likely decimate the local rice industry and put producers out of business. So government has refused to grant importer Jack Charles the permit he needs to bring in Guyanese rice, but that's doing nothing to bring down prices. The supplies control office in the Bureau of Standards which should enforce price controls is about as effective as a hammer without a head - so producers and retailers sell for any price that the market will pay - which is usually one dollar and twenty cents per pound - thirty cents above the control price - and fifty cents cheaper than Charles says he can retail it for.

It's a real quandary and when we visited Public's supermarket on West Collet Canal today we found that shoppers had mixed opinions on the price, and the possible price of rice:...

Courtney Weatherburne reporting
This looks like a normal mid-week shopping cart. Two boxes of Mac and cheese for the kids and then a box of raisins, noodles and a pack of sausages.

But there was one product that could be found in almost every cart at Publics today: and that's rice.

It's our favorite staple food but with rice making the news lately, there has been some controversy surrounding the supposed high price of local rice and who to blame for it.

Some customers say they have no problem paying for the price of local rice.

Adelia Young, Shopper
"Well for me, I prefer my own Belizean rice. Because I don't know how the Guyanese rice is. I don't know what it's like and I don't know how they are selling it, but I stand for my Belizean rice. They want to come and sell their cheaper than ours? We must can lower ours. Why would we support somebody else and we need support right now?"

Bernard Adulphus, Customer
"I think we ought to support all our rice farmers. It is important that we do that, because without our support, our farmers can't make it and we need to support that. Even though it's tempting to bringing rice from abroad, I am not familiar with Guyanese rice. It might be cheap, but is it good? I have a little experience with rice etc., so I don't know if it is good. Even though it might be cheaper, I don't think it's good and what guarantee do we have that the small store keepers in the corner will not increase that rice. So, I am saying I will always support the Belizean local rice. It is necessary for us to do that. I am thinking now outside the box. It might be yes for the first influx cheap from Guyana. Personally, I will not support Guyanese rice. I will support my Belizean farmers - that is important."

While others are more liberal.

Rita Coleman, Customer
"When they were talking about bringing in the rice again, I was saying if they bring it in and they want to sell it at a cheaper price, I was wondering what kind of rice we will be getting. If it's a dirty rice - that's the only thing I was kind of scare about. But if it can come in and the price is a bit cheaper, it would be much better to the consumers. But just that we get value for the price we are paying for."

Courtney Weatherburne
"You usually come to Public's to shop right?"

Rose Gibson, Shopper
"Yes ma'am."

Courtney Weatherburne
"How do you find the prices, especially for the rice?"

Rose Gibson, Shopper
"It's not outrageous, but like how it's the holiday, they should treat us a little better. That is our staple food for rice and beans. Nothing goes correct without our rice and beans. I haven't seen the Guyanese rice yet, so I can't comment on that, but we buy things from Guyana and Guyana buys things from us - we are a Caricom country. Try share the love too."

And this customer wants the grocers to show more love by lowering the price.

Courtney Weatherburne
"How much would you want to pay for one pound of rice?"

Rudolph Gilharry, Customer
"I would say under a dollar - 95-98 cents, depends on the transportation. I come from St. George's Caye. I have to come on my own boat. We don't have any transportation, no water taxi goes to St. George's Caye - so it's a stiff."

Courtney Weatherburne
"Usually you have to come out here in Belize City to do your shopping?"

Rudolph Gilharry, Customer
"There is no hotel there, no shop, no water system, no light - I have to have panels. I have to have water tanks. I have everything and come and pay a little cheaper for the rice, I think that will help."

While it will help him, it won't be feasible for retailers.

Nelson Avila, Manager
"We buy the rice at 90 cents per pound. We need to make a little 20% profit, because we have to pay our workers, we have to pay for the plastic bags, we have to pay taxes. Rice doesn't have a tax, but we have to pay light, water and service to open a store like this. I buy by the hundred pound sacks. I divided by different sizes: 10 pound; 5 pound; 3 pound; 2 pound. This is 20 pounds of rice. This comes package already from the company. Depends also, because right now the competition out there is very hard. Everybody is trying to drop the price. Here at Public's we have the best price at $1.15 per pound and if you buy the 100 pound sack, we give you for $100."

And while the shoppers weren't clear on it - we are: the Belize Marketing Board imported over three million pounds of Guyanese rice last year - and the Belizean consumer was none the wiser for it. There was no public disclosure of the bulk importation, and the local producers simply bought it from the marketing board bagged it in their local rice bags - and passed it off on you as locally produced rice.

And while it was imported for just 53 cents a pound, none of those savings were passed unto you the consumer: everyone from the marketing board to the retailer just pocketed the windfall unwittingly financed by you.

Channel 7


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#502903 - 04/02/15 11:14 AM Re: Rice Producers Say High Prices Aren’t Their Fault [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

GOB Steps In On Rice Issue

The issue of the price of rice – has been dominating headlines for almost two weeks now – and finally, today, the Minister of Agriculture Gaspar Vega and senior officials from his ministry met with rice producers in Belmopan.

Coming out of the meeting, they have agreed on what an official release calls “draft revised Standards for Rice”. Though no explanation is given, that suggests that different grades of rice will be sold – at different prices. The release says that, quote, “discussion commenced for a reduction of the price of rice to consumers with…emphasis on a reduced price for a more affordable grade of rice.” So that means that in order to compete with Guyanese rice, a lower grade of local rice will be offered. The new price structure will be finalised within a month.

They also agreed that all rice sold locally must have packaging which states the origin of the rice, the weight and the grade. This will go into effect within two months. Having this in place last year would have avoided the situation where Guyanese rice – over 3 million pounds of it - was imported to make up for drought related shortfalls – and then passed off by local producers unto unwitting consumers as local rice – an act of willful market deception if ever there was one. But we get these sense that this new measure is not to make amends for past misdeeds, but to prepare for the likelihood that Guyanese rice will appear on the local market to compete with local rice – and when it does, the rice producers want the consumers to know the difference. The same difference they kept secret last year.

But the bottom line coming out of today’s meeting is that there will be cheaper locally produced rice – the price – and grade - of which will be known in a month.

Channel 7


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#506479 - 08/07/15 10:37 AM Re: Rice Producers Say High Prices Aren’t Their Fault [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

When Will The Price Of Rice Go Down?

In late March, the price per pound of rice became a very controversial topic when importer Jack Charles challenged the local producers and accused them of gouging consumers. He was pushing to import Guyanese rice, which he says could be cheaper than what is already on the market. The local producers pushed back and pointed out that they were not the ones gouging. It did prompt an intervention from the Government who promised to get the price per pound - which is currently at $1.15 - decreased so that consumers could get it cheaper.

That announcement came on April 1, and the Government said that it would take 1 month for this new price regime to be announced. Since then, it's been been 3 and a half months, and no price change has been finalized. So, when we got the chance today, we asked the CEO in the Ministry of Trade, what's the hold up? Here's what he had to say:

Mike Singh - CEO, Ministry of Trade
"There has been a lot of movement, just not public movement. There has been a committee that was formed which involves our people from the Bureau of Standards, it involves people from Agriculture, from our Ministry and the Consumer Protection Unit. We've gotten so far, where two weeks ago we actually presented what our calculations of government side has been for the cost of production at which we will set the basis for where the price will be set. That has been given to the farmers. They now have a period of time to analyze it and get back to us and we are targeting that no later than I'd say the middle of September we should come to an agreement as to what that number should be and at that point than that number will then be imposed upon the producers."

"The way we are looking at it, is what we called the "basic rice" or the "social rice" - there is many word that's been described. We will form some kind of price protection. However, we will allow the farmers to float the price for the value added rice which will be the higher grades, where if I chose that I want brown rice of a special kind or I want unbroken rice or long rice - then I will pay that market price for that. But there has to be a social rice that is available for those people that may not have that choice. It's very high priority, but you have to understand that for us to enable the price setting on a certain standard, it means that we need to define that standard. It means that we need to define the labeling requirements. It means that we have to make sure that the law is adjusted to put it in force. There is many things that have to happen behind the scenes to ensure that we are not challenge on an issue like this."

"As you know this issue came to the forefront because of a challenge by an importer who felt that he had the right to bring in rice from Guyana and that pressure will continue. Guyana is facing some challenges with Venezuela where their exports of rice is now being cut. Which means that they are now looking for markets to dump their production. We don't want to be the victim of dumping."

As you may remember, the local rice producers - after they were called out for unfair prices - said that they weren't the ones who were driving the price of rice up. They said that the culprits were the grocers at your corner store. According to the growers, the gouging continues to happen because Consumer Protection, which is an enforcement arm of the Government, was not doing enough to stop them. Today, Singh told us that there are proposed changes in the way rice is delivered from the wholesalers to the retailers, which should help to curb that type of activity:

Mike Singh - CEO, Ministry of Trade
"The price controls exists also at the retail end and also quality control. Some of the things we are looking at doing is to discontinue for instance, the casual repacking by grocers. That's a process again that we have to make sure we do right. We need to ensure that when somebody is buying a pound of rice that it's not one once less than a pound, that it is a pound. We need to make sure that all the nutrition details are put on the package. Those are some of the issues that we are putting in place, whereby the prepacking of retail should happen at the factory and not at the vendor. If we can achieve that I think we will address a lot of the issues you are talking about, where at that point we will then rely on the public to give us the kind of intel for us to act on. There is a consumer hotline and I will tell you, it's completely underutilized. We get very few calls on that hotline. So the only way we can react to a violation has to be through a report from the public. If the public is not reporting to us, we can't act."

The Consumer Protection Hotline is 0-800-283-5587.

Channel 7


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