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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,398
Marty Offline OP
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It was a tense weekend as cane farmers in the north were wondering if B.S.I. would start processing cane today. But that didn't happen and there may be further delays and potential losses. B.S.I. had announced they would proceed, even if all cane farmers associations were not on board. But then on Friday, the Sugar Industry Control Board wrote to A.S.R./B.S.I. informing the mill that without gazetting the scheduled sugar crop opening date, it would be illegal for them to begin milling. B.S.I. believes the decision taken by the S.I.C.B. is a deliberate attempt to prevent the crop from starting. Today, VP at A.S.R./B.S.I. Mac McLachlan said that the economic implications of such actions are significant and far-reaching.

Mac McLachlan, VP International Relations, A.S.R./B.S.I.


"We should be milling cane as we speak and we are not. Farmers from all four cane farmers association met with B.S.I. on the eight and sixteenth of November and agreed the start of crop date would be the twentieth of December. That is today. On the seventeenth of December the SICB Chairman Marcos Osorio informed industry stakeholders by letter that until the start of crop date was published in the gazette, it would be illegal to commence grinding. We believe that this was unwarranted intervention in the operation of a private industry. And, it is meant basically the crop start is now delayed. That is going to cause economic damages to all industry stakeholders. We sought legal advice on that action. This morning lawyers representing the mill have sent a letter the SICB setting out the illegality of their actions. It amounts to an abuse of authority, after farmers and millers have already decided on the start of crops, and asking him to comply with the decision reached in his presents at those earlier meetings. There is no need in the law for the SICB to rubber stamp the decision that is simply to publish that in the gazette. That action has really brought to the forefront, a major concern that we and other industry stakeholders have share, which is about the level of control and authority that is placed in a government controlled institution."

B.S.I. Says It Cannot Afford to Pay More

A.S.R./B.S.I. says it has become evident to the company that the Association wants more money from the mill for sugar cane at a time when the mill says they cannot afford it. A.S.R./B.S.I.'s reluctance to sign an interim agreement to their Commercial Agreement is rooted in the position that the company is not in a position to engage in any discussion about increasing what the farmers make.

Mac McLachlan, VP International Relations, A.S.R./B.S.I.


"It has become clear to us that it was stated to us quite clearly that what B.S.C.F.A. wants is more money from the Mill. And, at a time when the mill is investing in value added products, in a Port Facility in Big Creek that is going to reduce the cost of freight. The farmers will share that advantage. There is nothing to give. And, that is why it is very difficult for us to consider anything like an interim agreement. There will be no point that will be simply pushing this whole issue down the track and ruin another crop next year. There objective is not about moving away from Net Strip Value and sharing of cost, but really about transferring value or getting paid more for cane from BSI to B.S.C.F.A., which we have stated from the very beginning, is not an option for us. We were certainly prepared to look at a simplified structure for paying cane, where the mill is no worse off. But if we go down a tract where they are looking to significantly transfer value, which is something we just cannot do."

PM Comments on Sugar Situation

When we caught up with Prime Minister Brice�o today at an event out west, we sought a comment on the situation of the sugar industry. As a second generation canero himself, PM Brice�o commented on the livelihood the industry has afforded his family and many families in the north.

Prime Minister John Brice�o


"Our farmers believe that they could come up with a better method of payment and B.S.I. has been resisting. So, now they are getting to an impasse. I believe if we are getting to an impasse and their contract is coming to an end next month, we have to as a government be able to step in as an honest broker, sit with two parties and come with a negotiation that would be fair to everybody. Both sides wont like everything. But, at least we could have a working relationship between farmers, B.S.I. and Government. We feel that is a responsibility to keep that going and to ensure our farmers, our Belizean citizens continue to be owners of the industry and not just cane cutters. As to what happened in the tourism industry, look at what happened. Tourism has been growing in leaps and bounds. But what has happened to us Belizeans? We have become the cooks. We wash dishes. We clean the swimming pools. We go fix the beds. We are not the real owners. The argument could be made that yes, you need a lot of money to invest in the tourism industry. We could argue that. But with sugar we own the land, we own the cane, and we have to ensure that Belizeans have ownership of the sugar industry."

PM Says Crop Delay is Opportunity to Improve Product

Reporters also questioned PM Brice�o about S.I.C.B.'s position and what he foresees to be the implications of the delay. According to the PM, the delay presents an opportunity for farmers to deliver quality cane when milling does commence.

Prime Minister John Brice�o


Simply what was pointed out by the SIBC that have said that they have not gazetted, just by following the law, that they have not gazetted the day for the opening date of the sugar crop. I believe that the sugar crop should start and it should start now. But, I will meet with the Minister by Wednesday the latest to see what SICB has done. But, to start the crop, we need to start it soon. There are no implications, simply because the crop has not started yet. Secondly the amount of rain that we have been having over the past week, it would be counterproductive to start the crop right now. The cane is going to be full of water. So, we are going to use a lot more cane to produce a ton of sugar. The road is going to be in such a bad state that we are going to be breaking up the roads even more, and we are going breaking up the tractors. And thirdly, BSI is going to be complaining that the cane we are getting is not good quality and contains a lot of mud. So maybe it is the best thing we hold it back a few days."

Channel 5

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,398
Marty Offline OP
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Sugar, The Broader View of A Bitter Dispute

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,398
Marty Offline OP
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Sugar Standoff Extends, Factory Blocked Tonight

When we left you last night, there were the makings of a stand-off between farmers of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. After an entire day of dialog, facilitated by the Briceno Government, the millers and the association with almost 70% of the farmers in the north were still at a hard impasse.

Several cane farmers had parked their trucks filled with cane in front of the main entrance of the Tower Hill Factory. The intent was clear; they were not going to allow the crop season to progress.

So, with the stakes being very high, Prime Minister John Briceno himself entered the negotiations to try and end the unrest in the Sugar Industry. But, even after all of those talks and the ferrying of information back and forth between the two parties, the stand-off is no closer to ending.

At this time, there are more trucks and a group of farmers who have set up a camp in front of the industry. They are determined not to move until they have a fully signed interim agreement that lasts all the way to August of next year. So far, the Government and police have overseen the dispute to ensure that there is no more violence, for now...

PM Briceno Intervened Personally To Resolve Sugar Dispute

So while that is the situation at this hour, Prime Minister John Briceno and members of his government tried very hard for most of the day to encourage the two sides to de-escalate for the good of the industry.

Our news team only just arrived from Orange Walk after spending the entire day observing the government's interventions to ensure that the two sides are talking, that the stakeholders sustain minimal losses, and that the protest from the BSCFA farmers does not escalate into a riot.

Daniel Ortiz has that story:

Representatives of the BSCFA, Prime Minister John Briceno, the Ministry of Agriculture, and members of the SICB congregated this morning at the Yo Creek Agriculture Station.

Nobody from ASR/BSI showed up to participate in this meeting in person.

This was the second day of dialogue in the hopes of ending the stand-off that continues to force the wastage of perfectly good days for cane delivery and milling.

Alfredo Ortega - Chairman, OW Branch, BSCFA
"Nothing has changed as yet. We maintain our position. We'll see what will be happening with the meeting that is called by the Prime Minister, 9 o'clock, and from there, we'll see what is the result of that. But, in the meantime, we maintain our position as of yesterday."

We saw cane trucks blocking the entrance of the Tower Hill compound, but aside from that, the situation remained calm in front of the mill.

In the meantime, multiple police units were on standby, just in case social unrest broke out. There were reports that cane farmers were considering a blockade of the road and the Toll Bridge.

Officers were conducting their routine checkpoint, but we saw others in strategic locations, ready to respond at a moment's notice.

Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police
"I spoke earlier to Mr. Ortega, who is one of the directors of the largest sugar cane association, as I had heard him earlier on the morning talk show stating that they were going to block the highways to Belize City. My conversation with him was basically to advise him not to do that. At this time, the police are out here. We're in full force, but we're not here to agitate anybody. At the end of the day, we want the associations and the farmers not to see us as their enemies because that is not what we're about. Law and order must be maintained, and these gentlemen are very peaceful, and they have committed to work with the police to ensure the highway remains clear to Belize City and to Orange Walk Town, and we're very grateful for their cooperation."

"My instruction to the officers is that while they're out here, they are not to have any weapons, no pepper spray."

And the early morning, the BSCFA leaders shared similar views as the Police Commissioner.

Alfredo Ortega - Chairman, OW Branch, BSCFA
"We don't want anybody to get harmed. We don't want to block any roads. All that we are looking for is that we can get that agreement signed so that our farmers can deliver to the end of the crop."

Reporter
"Do you think that meeting with the Prime Minister today at 9:30 will result in that agreement being signed and you guys get to deliver your cane up until August?"

Alfredo Ortega
"Well, that is our hope to attend that meeting and to see that we get that result. That's why we have these people amongst us. That's why we have this support because we are sending this message to the Prime Minister and to BSI/ASR that this is what we're looking for."

Reporter
"And if that doesn't happen?"

Alfredo Ortega
"Well, it will depend on the results of the meeting. I cannot say what will be our next step. All will depend on the meeting that we'll be holding with the Prime Minister."

At midday, after several hours of discussion with the farmers, the Prime Minister emerged from the meeting area to say that not much had changed.

Hon. John Briceno - Prime Minister
"The Cane Farmers Association [are] prepared to accept the 30th of April, but they want an extension, that if we do not have an agreement, to move it for 3 more months. So, I called BSI, and I asked to see if they can - if they would reconsider that, and they're saying that they have to talk to their bosses. So, I expect a call from them. We reconvene at 1:30."

After that lunch break and a short afternoon conversation, Prime Minister Briceno returned to tell the press that essentially, the two sides have agreed to end the stand-off and resume the cane deliveries and the crop season.

Hon. John Briceno - Prime Minister
"We have made progress, but we feel that we'd be able to finalize an agreement tomorrow, so what I am prepared to tell you now is that the cane farmers, the leaders have agreed that they are going to ask their membership to remove the barrier in front of the factory. BSI has given assurance that they will not received any cane for the next 24 hours and that if we sign an interim agreement tomorrow, that then they will start receiving cane from cane farmers on Friday at 6am."

So, we went to BSI's Tower Hill compound to observe whether or not the cane truck blockade would be removed. And from the views expressed out there this evening, BSCFA farmers won't budge. In fact, it seems like they intend to set up a temporary encampment right in front of the factory until they have hard evidence that the extension has been signed.

Andy Westby - Chairman, Committee of Management, BSCFA
"The massage from the farmers, they will not move the blocking of the gate until that interim agreement is signed. Once it is signed, they will be willing to move the trucks from the gates."

This evening, 2 of the smaller cane farmer associations scheduled a press conference, no doubt to voice their displeasure of the negative impact they're experiencing for a fight that they are not involved in. Because of the blockade, their membership cannot deliver their cane to the factory.

Late this evening, after the Prime Minister's evening comments, they decided to postpone their press conference until tomorrow.

This afternoon, the Opposition UDP, sent out a press release that harshly criticizes the Briceno Government for the state of affairs in the sugar industry.

Their statement says, quote, "The United Democratic Party expresses...grave disappointment in the inability of the government to broker a settlement among all parties involved..." End quote.

Channel 7



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