BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 17, 2015–Gustavo Carrillo of Port of Big Creek told Amandala that three 24-foot containers of rice arrived in the country today, but these containers are still sitting at the port in Big Creek.
Sergio Garcia, the consultant for businessman Jitendra Chawla (also known as Jack Charles), who has embarked on a commercial effort to import rice into Belize from Guyana, which he intends to sell at much lower prices than locally produced rice, told Amandala that they went to collect the rice, but were told by Port of Big Creek authorities that the port’s management had been given instructions not to release the rice.
For some time now, Chawla has been promoting his rice on the radio, frustrating local producers who fear that they will lose business due to the presence of this cheaper rice from Guyana on the local market.
“The matter is more than just about the price of rice,” the Belize Chamber of Commerce stated in a press release dated December 16, 2015.
The Chamber of Commerce release continued by stating that the measure the importer is taking will cause at least 20% of our local farmers to lose business. The release also cautioned that the importer must ensure that he follows proper procedures in order to protect the consumer.
In its conclusion, the release remarked that the importer must prove that the quality and standard of the rice he is importing justify the losses that will be suffered by our local farmers and the negative impact of such importation on the Belizean economy.
Amandala contacted Customs officials in Big Creek and was told that missing from the Customs documentation for Chawla is the import permit from Belize Agriculture Health Authority (BAHA), which still needs to give their stamp of approval that the imported product is satisfactory for consumers’ consumption.
Garcia told us, however, that, “Under the Treaty of Chaguaramas, CARICOM products don’t need an import permit to enter the country. Garcia pointed to section 79 – General Provisions on Trade Liberalisation.
1. “The member states shall establish and maintain a regime for the free trade movement of goods and services within the CSME (CARICOM Single Market Economy).
2. “Each Member State shall refrain from trade policies and practices…which is to distort competition, frustrate free movement of goods and services or otherwise nullify or impair benefits to which other Member States are entitled under the treaty.
3. “The Member States shall not introduce in their territories any… restrictions on imports or exports of Community origin save as otherwise provided in the Treaty.”
Garcia told Amandala that Chawla had attempted to import the rice earlier this year in March; however, Government had promised to lower the local price of rice in order to make it more affordable for consumers.
As a result, Chawla reconsidered importing rice, but after eight months had passed without Government lowering the price, he proceeded with his plans to import rice from Guyana. Chawla’s imported rice will cost approximately 50 cents less than our local rice.
Stanley Rempel, CEO of Circle R products, explained how the local price of rice is determined: Paddy rice which is received from the farmers is milled. After milling, one pound of white rice is reduced to half a pound of white rice. At this point .30 cents is added on for the conversion of the rice, which brings the cost to .60 cents. Added onto that are .10 cents for milling, .8 cents for packaging, another .10 cents for distribution, then 20% retail markup, which brings the retail price of price to $1.05 per pound.
Garcia said that they feel secure in importing this rice, since the Treaty of Chaguaramas supersedes the “national legislation’.
Garcia also added that it is the Caribbean Court of Justice that makes the final decision on anything that is related to the CSME.