Headline — 14 January 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
Cañeros, BSI sign interim agreement

Up until late this evening, the executives of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) were meeting at the BSI Staff Club in Orange Walk Town where we understand the two parties signed an Interim Agreement in connection with the bagasse issue.

Following the session, BSI’s CEO, Joey Montalvo, told the media that the crop season is scheduled to start sometime soon. Montalvo said that he is “particularly pleased” about the meeting today and that they are now going to focus on getting the crop season underway.

He stated, “We must also focus on the negotiations that are coming as well – to finalize that – and also I want to say that this hasn’t really slowed BSI/ASR’s plan of action. We need to move the fields and the mills and we just need to focus on increasing productivity on both the farmers’ side and the mill side, which brings hope and potential to increase cane production to about 2 million pounds and sugar production to around 200,000, because if we ought to stay in business, we must look forward and work together.”

According to Montalvo, a quantum for the payment for bagasse has still not been discussed, but once that is determined, there will be all intentions to pay the farmers for their bagasse.

Vice Chairman of the BSCFA, Alfredo Ortega, said that it was important for them to have reached the point of signing the agreement with BSI/ASR. Ortega said, “I think this gives us the roadmap for future negotiations and for the crop to start.”

He also mentioned that BSI and BSCFA agreed on some of the critical points of contention. Ortega said, “We have moved to negotiate for a payment for bagasse so that whenever we start the season the crop will be uninterrupted; that the negotiations take place before the end of the crop season, and also we maintained the Memorandum of Understanding that we have including all the agreements and the clause that we have put in; and that we will be working diligently on reaching a clear point on the negotiations.”

Ortega said that since they have now finalized the signing of the agreement, the BSCFA will now send another letter to the Prime Minister to address the issues of licenses for the cane trucks and fuel subsidies for the farmers along with a copy of the Interim Agreement, and in addition they will also send the PM a letter to address the issue of the dilapidated sugar roads.

Yesterday, the general membership of the cane farmers association met in San Roman Village in Corozal where they lengthily deliberated on the Interim Agreement that was established between the BSCFA and BSI/ASR. The opposing sides have been at odds over the payment for bagasse for over three months now.

Last week, they finally reached an Interim Agreement which would – among other things – realize a concrete start date for the 2013/2014 sugar crop season. The Interim Agreement speaks to the BSI/ASR intent to negotiate – in good faith – payment for bagasse, which is a notion that they had flatly rejected initially. The actual wording in the Interim Agreement states that “BSI in good faith intends to make payment for bagasse subject to negotiation of a new agreement.”

According to the BSCFA and their attorney, Christopher Coye, the Interim Agreement does not remove the cañeros’ rights to resort to industrial action during the crop season if negotiations on the quantum payment for bagasse collapse. That particular clause states, “The BSCFA in good faith fully intends to proceed with the crop without interruption to completion.”

At the end of yesterday’s meeting that started in the morning and went well into the afternoon, the cañeros gave the go-ahead for BSCFA to sign the Interim Agreement.

In regard to the sugar roads, which remain in terrible condition, the Office of the Prime Minister today sent out a press release in which it announced that road works costing two million dollars will commence on the roads immediately. Additionally, the Office of the Prime Minister notified the public that it welcomed the decision of the BSCFA to sign the memorandum with BSI and it is “pleased that the efforts of the Government in getting BSI/ASR to accept the obligation to pay farmers for bagasse has helped with this breakthrough.”

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