One elected official who has been in the news cycle
non-stop since the election is Jose Mai. From the opening of the cattle
trade, to the opening of the free zone, to the proposed ban on certain
dairy products - Mai has been making headlines regularly.
And he's not shy about it - today he was on the ground at Western
Dairies' processing plant in Spanish Lookout.
After he dropped his bombshell announcement that there would be less
imported dairy products on the market two weeks ago, he is living up to
his campaign by encouraging Belizeans to buy local.
The press was invited to accompany the Minister on a tour of the
factory, and Courtney Menzies has the story.
From the farm to the table takes on a new meaning in Spanish Lookout
Community. The residents are the farmers, producers, and manufacturers
of our country's dairy products.
The cattle on these farms are bred and raised specifically for milking. One
farmer demonstrated the special equipment he has to speed up the milking
process allowing up to 45 cows to be milk within the hour. And the cost
of the equipment pays for itself, since dairy is a lucrative business.
But before that milk reaches your bowl of cereal, it needs to be processed.
Western Dairies does the pasteurization and packaging at their Spanish
And of course, that milk is also turned into various cheeses mozzarella,
cheddar, pepper jack, and more that is also made and packaged by the
But that's not all, Western Dairies is especially known for their ice cream
and Delight ice cream bars.
Not to mention their Chillers brand juices and milks and their sour cream.
So, they make it all, and clearly have the monopoly on local dairy
products. But that does not mean there is no competition.
Belizeans have long strayed towards the imported milks and cheese LALA,
Kraft, Velveeta and the ever-loved Happy Cow.
Because the market is saturated with the imported products, the local ones
do not sell, and in the last House Meeting, Agriculture Minister planned to
rectify this. First, he announced an importation ban, but later conceded to
a restriction of the international products. And in his quest to promote
local products, he took a tour of Western Dairies' factory today.
And after the tour, he was expected to answer the tough questions that
is, why Belizeans simply prefer the imported products over those that are
made right here in the country.
Hon. Jose Mai - Minister of Agriculture
"From what we saw just now, fresh milk compared to imported LALA milk,
there was not a big difference, there was not that disparity and you saw
that. The price is almost the same. Where we have a problem is in the shelf
life and again, we have to accept that there is a difference in the shelf
life, the important thing here though is to understand and let the Belizean
public understand that you could never compare a natural milk with a
processed milk. Natural milk that we saw here today has no preservatives,
it is natural, it is healthy, and it is better, health-wise for our
Milk and cheese, he explained, that you see sitting on the shelves in
stores instead of in the refrigerator have artificial preservatives,
allowing them to survive in room temperature.
Another issue Belizeans find is that the local products, specifically milk,
is more expensive than its imported counterparts. Minister Mai explained
the reason for this.
Hon. Jose Mai
"When you look at the unfair competition, when we look at processed milks
coming into the country, paying zero duty, and in 2018/2019, certain
companies were not even paying GST. They were qualifying the imported milk
as fresh milk, which it is not, because fresh milk shelf life is between
fourteen days and a little bit more but processed milk can last you on the
shelf in a special pack for months. So, it cannot be considered to be fresh
milk. So they're not paying GST, they're not paying duty, coming into the
country when the local processors, the manufacturer here are not only milk
processors, not only the dairy industry, but you have small, medium sized
enterprises that do juices, bottled juices, bottle coconut water, these
people are paying duties on all the equipment used to process they're also
paying duties on the packaging and labelling, duties and GST, so clearly it
is unfair to our local manufacturers."
And the ministry plans to combat this by proposing to remove GST and import
duties from bottling and packaging equipment, which will in turn allow the
price to be lowered, giving it a chance at competing against the imported
product. In addition, Minister Mai said that while you'll have your
imported products, you will have to pay extra for it.
Hon. Jose Mai
"If you want imported, you will have to pay for it. We are proposing, and
I'm hoping to get support from my Cabinet colleague, which I'm sure we
will, to enforce the law by the imported paying GST, one and two, we also
propose to clarify that, besides the GST, to put duties on imported
products that compete and make our local product more competitive. Western
Dairies produces a value of 3.2 million dollars in milk. So, we're
importing 21.8 [million dollars' worth] but we're only producing 3.2, it
means that we can grow this industry. In terms of cheese, this company only
produces 1.9 million when we import 13 million. It means that we can grow
But Mai also said that this won't be forever, and the ministry is planning
to revisit these measures once they see favourable results.
Hon. Jose Mai
"As soon as we see the stocks that you witness going down we will again
review the suspension and, let me tell you, we have not stopped the
importation of LALA milk nor any other milk, we are just controlling it, we
are managing it, we are watching the stocks in the markets, we are looking
at the stocks that they have in cheese here, we are looking at the movement
of milk out of this place, we are working with the local producers so once
we see that we are okay, then we make adjustments to the importation."
According to Western Dairies' chairman, if there is a great increase in
demand, the company will be able to meet it. He explained that in 2020,
they were required to reduce their production by 20% because there was
too much of a surplus.