General — 15 December 2015 — by Johnelle McKenzie
$1.15 down to $0.69 per pound for rice?

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 14, 2015–There is an ad on the radio announcing that very soon consumers will be able to get rice for 69 cents per pound. This is due to Jitendra Chawla, more popularly known as “Jack Charles,”

a local merchant, importing rice from Guyana, and this has our local rice producers in a state of panic, fearing that they may be pushed out of the market.

Jose Alpuche, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, told Amandala this morning that Jack Charles has not been given a permit to import rice from Guyana, however.

Also, it has been reported that Guyana is seeking markets for its rice due to the fact that the PetroCaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement between Guyana and Venezuela was squashed as a result of a territorial disagreement between the two countries.

Stanley Rempel, a local rice producer, told Amandala that this is not about getting rice at a more affordable rate; instead, it is about “food security”. Rempel added that rice is already one of the cheapest commodities, since at “$1.15 per pound, it can feed 10 people.”

Rempel explained that if something like this is allowed in our local market, it will shut down the local rice industry and Government will lose millions of revenue, since imported rice that comes from CARICOM countries cannot be taxed.

In this case, he said, the old adage “cheaper is not always better” is applicable, especially, when we look at the big picture, which would be putting 100 local rice farmers and 5 milling companies out of business, and causing about 2,000 employees to lose their jobs.

Rempel went on to say that Charles had commented that he would continue to sell the rice at 69 cents per pound for two years, which is the amount of time needed to shut down the local market, and thereafter, the price of the imported rice will be raised.

A press release from Belize Agro Productive Sector Group stated, “Rice farmers want lower rice prices on the shelves too. This is why we have been lobbying Government for some of the same subsidies that are available to Guyanese rice growers, and even available here in Belize to big companies such as American Sugar Refinery/Belize Sugar Industry ASR/ BSI and Green Tropics/ Santander; subsidies such as cheaper fuel, duty exemptions, tax breaks and other incentives.”

Alpuche said that very soon rice, referred to as 70/30 or Grade C, will cost 80 cents at wholesale and 90 cents at retail.

Well, the ads are still being aired and the last time Amandala spoke to Jack Charles, he seemed adamant about bringing in his rice. We must add that this is not the first time he is causing tension amongst the local rice producers; earlier in March he had attempted to bring in rice, also.

A press release sent out from Charles said that he will be importing only 20% of the rice consumed locally, and it is not his intention to monopolize the rice industry.

The release went on to say that the Guyanese rice is costing him 0.52 cents a pound. It further explained that the Belize Marketing Development Company (Belize Marketing Board) had imported 3 million pounds of the same Guyanese rice, which they repacked in Circle R bags and sold for .94 cents a pound.

The released continued that as a result of the “gouging price,” the Belize Marketing Board made a profit of over 1.4 million dollars.

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