Headline — 20 December 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
Cañeros “unreasonable,” says BSI/ASR!

In the battle for bagasse revenues, BSI says “irresponsible” farmers’losses would be “irreversible”

No end seems to be in sight for the ongoing bagasse dispute between the local sugar cane farmers, represented by the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), and the multinational sugar producers, Belize Sugar Industries (BSI)/American Sugar Refineries (ASR).

In a reactive press release sent by BSI/ASR this afternoon, they stated that the latest position taken by the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) is “irresponsible” and “unreasonable.” ASR added that “Should the crop delay beyond difficulties caused by the rain, the loss to the farmers themselves would not only be substantial, but it would be irreversible.”

When the cañeros met last Sunday, December 15, at an emergency conference at the Escuela Secondaria School in San Roman in the Corozal District, they decided that the new crop season would only start after a legally binding agreement is signed by BSI, BSCFA and the Government of Belize (GOB), stating that BSI will pay them for bagasse.

In last Sunday’s meeting, nearly 1,000 cane farmers examined a letter that was sent from ASR to the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, in which the transnational company indicated that they were willing to pay the farmers for bagasse, but that the negotiations were not to be deemed prejudicial to either of the parties’ legal positions. BSI also wished to clarify that ownership of the cane is officially transferred to them upon delivery.

The cane farmers carefully sifted through the ASR letter, scanning the words line-by-line before reaching their consensus on a counterproposal to the BSI/ASR offer. The cane farmers also agreed that there is no reason why the delivery of cane and the negotiations on the quantum or price (to be paid for bagasse) cannot occur simultaneously, and furthermore, the farmers insisted that a decision on the price should be finalized no later than January 31, 2014.

The cane farmers were also very resolute that two additional conditions set out by ASR were unreasonable – the conditions being that once the sugar crop season begins, it should not be interrupted; and that the payment for bagasse – when resolved – will finally resolve the issue of payment for sugarcane byproducts.

In their release today, BSI/ASR insisted once more that the obligation to pay for bagasse does not exist in the original purchase agreement, and that BSCFA was free to pursue its claim in a court of law, but that such litigation should not delay the start of the crop season.

BSI concluded that they stand ready to start the crop season when the weather permits, adding that it should be done in tandem with a return to the negotiating table to “conclude discussions on a new agreement that would include a payment for bagasse.”

That sounds quite rational, but the cane farmers are not convinced that BSI/ASR is acting in good faith. Besides, without a binding agreement, the farmers contend that there is nothing to compel the multinational company to pay them for bagasse.

It was the hope of the Cane Farmers Association that a meeting between themselves and BSI/ASR could have been held by today, but our understanding is that the Office of the Prime Minister only yesterday officially communicated to ASR the position of BSCFA.

The Prime Minister is presently out of the country, attending a SICA meeting over the last weekend, and a PetroCaribe Summit in Venezuela earlier this week. He will be on personal leave until this Monday, December 23.

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