The local sugar industry is transitioning from a raw sugar producer to a manufacturer of direct consumption sugar. It's a move that American Sugar Refinery, started almost two years ago in anticipation of the change in the E.U. Sugar Regime in respect of preferential prices for the Caribbean, including Belize.� The industry is one of the main productive sectors in the country, being the premiere source of employment and economic activity in the north. The sector directly and indirectly employs fifteen percent of the country's population and represents approximately one-third of the exports. Today, I.D.B. signed an investment agreement with A.S.R./B.S.I. that will allow B.S.I. to diversify its export markets and strengthen the industry's value chain. News Five's Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Inside the conference room at the Belize Sugar Industry's factory plant in Orange Walk, American Sugar Refinery and the Inter-American Development Bank, through its I.D.B. Invest Programme, officially signed off on an investment agreement that will secure the future of the industry. For some time now, following the discontinuance of preferential prices by the European Union as well as the continued surplus of sugar in the world markets, the millers have had to find alternatives to offset the price cut and to stay competitive in the region.
Aitor Ezcurra, Corporates Division Chief, IDB Invest
"The investment that we are doing fits perfectly in two important pillars of the IDB Invest Strategy. Frist the efforts that we are making to support the small island countries; this is very important for us to ensure that between the Latin America and Caribbean region, small island countries are also supported by us. And second because the effort we are making in working with small and medium size enterprises and through anchor companies like B.S.I.� The proposed operation supports investments, access to financing, economic and knowledge transfer to agriculture located in the northern rural areas of the country. The financing consists of up to fifteen million dollars to B.S.I."
ASR's VP of International Relations, Mac McLachlan says that this is phase two of the transition period for the industry, having now maintained improved dialogue with farmers and other stakeholders in the business of sugar.The project will build the production capacity of the mill that will translate into higher earnings for B.S.I., benefiting the more than five thousand cane farmers. The timeframe for this roll out is eighteen months after which the cane farmers and the millers will be able to fully explore the exportation of value added sugar.
Mac McLachlan, VP, International Relations, ASR Group
"What we need to do to ensure that we are going to be viable, sustainable and profitable moving into the future is to ensure that we're producing a product that has a higher value than the traditional raw sugar that is being produced in CARICOM countries. In the past, during the E.U. Sugar Regime, there was preferential pricing for raw sugar in the E.U. and that was the catalyst for mills making raw sugar. But as that's fallen away now, following changes in the E.U. Regime from October 2017, sugar businesses across the ACP are looking at how they can add value to their product and that's exactly what we are doing here. We are going through a transformational phase where we are moving from a raw sugar producer to a food grade sugar producer-that is sugars that doesn't then need to be refined elsewhere. And it gives it a higher value."
The I.D.B. is known for investments in many programmes including education, infrastructure and tourism, but its mandate now extends to agriculture. Country representative, Doctor Cassandra Rogers says that the investment is in line with the bank's mission to grow Belize's economy and the private sector.
Dr. Cassandra Rogers, I.D.B. Country Representative, Belize
"The current country strategy, one of its main objectives, is to promote private sector-led growth. In other words, our and our objective is to contribute to the growth of the economy while at the same time improving the quality of lives of Belizeans. And so this project is very relevant; it is front and centre and it's a win-win situation."
Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture
"This is very significant because if you wind back the clock a bit to 2012 when we were really struggling and I was on the board then, we were trying to at least secure some sort of investment into B.S.I. to save the industry. The cane farmers were growing cane, but without a processing facility�that would have been no use and we were fortunate to get A.S.R. on board. But world prices are low and the E.U. preferential has eroded so they are now looking at direct consumption sugar, sugar on your table and that's where we are."