Features — 12 August 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
Bagasse negotiations on hold

ORANGE WALK—In spite of major hurdles at the start of the year, the 2013/2014 sugar crop harvest turned out to be one of the best seasons yet; however, the impasse between the factory owners Belize Sugar Industries (BSI)/American Sugar Refineries (ASR) and the local cañeros of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA) continues, since the dispute over bagasse profits has not been fully resolved.

Cane farmers rejected the BSI proposal of 51 cents as the quantum payment for bagasse at a general meeting which was held on July 20 of this year, after which they sent a letter to the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) to seek an international expert to help the two parties – BSCFA and BSI – negotiate a fair payment for bagasse.

The government has offered to pay for an independent expert to step in and mediate the dispute, but ASR representatives expressed their rejection of the idea of having an international expert intervene in a matter they consider “private” between commercial partners.

In any event, the BSCFA, which has spent as much as $150,000 in negotiating expenses up to this point, is moving full steam ahead with its proposal, and today, Amandala spoke to the Vice Chairman of the BSCFA’s Committee of Management, Alfredo Ortega, who told us that the BSCFA has received a letter from BSI/ASR explaining their reluctance to involve an outside mediator; however, the BSCFA’s aim is to seek a way to finalize a reasonable quantum of payment for bagasse before the next sugar crop season later this year.

Ortega said, “I think that if we are working in good faith, there should be nothing to hide, and I think that they should at least they should come with something different than saying a complete no to an international consultant. There are certain things that we have reached agreement on, and there are those areas that are still on standby, and we will be seeking to finalize those agreements. We have said from the very beginning that we want to finalize the quantum of payment for bagasse so that we can reach a new agreement between BSI and BSCFA including a quantum payment for bagasse. We hope that we can finalize with the bagasse issue and finalize the new agreement so that when the next crop comes, we should be clear with all those points and have a new commercial agreement with BSI.”

Ortega explained that the BSCFA has sent a letter to the SICB, which is the government arm of the sugar industry, in order to find out if they (SICB) will facilitate the services of an independent expert in the bagasse negotiations. It was indicated to them that the SICB would make a decision at their next meeting; however, a date has not yet been set for that meeting.

The cane farmers and the factory owners were supposed to have arrived at a signed agreement for a bagasse payment by the end of the previous sugar crop season which ended in July, but that never happened since the cañeros were not in favor of the 51 cents per ton of bagasse which was being offered by BSI/ASR.

In related news, cane farmers received their second payment for cane that was delivered for the 2013/2014 sugar crop.

There were also rumors that BSI will only accept 1.2 million tons of cane for the next crop season since they won’t have money to invest as a result of the bagasse issue, but when we asked Ortega, he said that he will have to confirm that with BSI/ASR because they (BSCFA) has not yet received that information in black and white.

Amandala understands that the third and final payment for the 2013/2014 sugar crop season will be made to farmers in November this year, while the cañeros have given their negotiating team until October 15, 2014 to come up with a signed commercial agreement including payment for bagasse.

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