New crop season will only start after legally binding agreement is signed
The executives of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) met with almost 1,000 unwavering sugar cane farmers who collectively converged in San Roman Village in the Corozal District yesterday, Sunday, in order to scrutinize the proposals that have been put forward by the executives of American Sugar Refineries (ASR), the parent company of Belize’s local sugar producer, Belize Sugar Industries (BSI).
During the meeting, the cane farmers considered the so-called breakthrough in the bagasse dispute which Prime Minister Dean Barrow brokered with ASR representatives in a meeting last Wednesday, December 11.
Last Wednesday afternoon, Barrow also met with the executives of the BSCFA, and he told them that earlier that day, ASR had agreed to pay them for bagasse, and that a quantum would be settled in negotiations.
At the time, the executives of the BSCFA asked that the ASR offer be placed in writing; it is the ASR correspondence, which was addressed to PM Barrow on the abovementioned date, that the BSCFA presented to their membership at the meeting.
What was not known at the time of the Barrow meeting, however, was that the ASR agreement came with certain conditions and terms. This was what was uncovered when the cane farmers and their executives scrupulously combed through the proposals word-for-word before reaching a consensus to make a counterproposal to the BSI/ASR offer.
In their counterproposal, they very clearly outlined what needs to happen in order for them to start delivering cane to the Tower Hill Sugar Factory in Orange Walk again. The approximately 1,000 cane farmers who were present at the meeting voted that a new crop season will only start after a legally binding agreement is signed between BSI, BSCFA, and the Government of Belize, and that the agreement must very clearly state that BSI will pay the cañeros for bagasse.
The cane farmers have also agreed that negotiations for the quantum or price can occur simultaneously while cane is being delivered, but that the decision should be finalized no later than January 31, 2014.
One of the clauses in the ASR letter declared that once the sugar crop season is started, it must proceed without interruption. The farmers fervently disagreed with that clause.
Another contentious ASR clause stated that the payment for bagasse would finally resolve the issue regarding payment for cane or its byproducts, and the farmers also disagreed with that.
Cañero Ramon “Monchie” Cervantes, Jr., explained, partially through translation, that some of the parts of the BSI/ASR proposals to the farmers would prevent them from benefitting from revenues that may be generated from any other sugarcane byproducts.
Cervantes said, “We must remember that we have a Memorandum of Agreement signed since 1989, and again in 2002 by BSI and BSCFA. That agreement says that the BSCFA and BSI agree that the share of revenue arising from the sale of any byproduct not covered in their present agreement will be subject to future discussions, and the sharing of revenue will be based on the results of those discussions… We have to be well-informed of what is our product that we invest our labor, our money and our resources.”
Quoting another document, Cervantes went on to disclose that currently there are at least eight byproducts that can be manufactured from sugar cane, and another 45 sub-products that can be created from those.
Among other discrepancies that the farmers pointed out in the ASR proposals was that what is presently called a “purchase agreement” is a misnomer, and should actually be called a “supply agreement.”
BSCFA vice-president, Alfredo Ortega, further explained: “When we deliver our cane, they [BSI] do not pay us at the moment; they pay us for the quantity of sugar that they will get from that cane because the relative factor that they use is the weekly quantity of sugar, which shows how much sugar is produced per week, so together, both parties take the risk and share the losses, and we [the cane farmers lose] even more because they only pay us for the quantity of sugar that they get, so it is very important that you understand this claim.”
Ortega explained that their agreement with BSI is not one of “sale and purchase,” because the cane farmers deliver the cane that BSI uses to make sugar, and while it is true that they (BSI) borrow money for the first two months to pay the farmers for the start of the delivery of cane, after they (BSI) sell the sugar, they actually use their (the cane farmers) own money to pay them.
He mentioned that BSI has said that they (BSI) are the owners of the sugarcane after it is weighed and passes through their gate, and if that is the case, then Ortega asserted that the farmers should price their product at their own discretion, then BSI should pay the cane farmers upon delivery, after which BSI can do whatever they want with it (the cane).
The decisions taken by the cane farmers yesterday will now be taken back to the Prime Minister, who will in turn forward it to BSI/ASR.
However, because PM Barrow is currently out of the country and won’t return until this weekend, it will be Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega who will take over that responsibility, after which another meeting date will be set for both parties to continue negotiations.
PM Dean Barrow was at a SICA Summit Meeting in Panama. He then traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, for the PetroCaribe Summit today and tomorrow, after which he goes on personal leave until this weekend.