Politics — 02 November 2012 — by Adele Ramos

“The unilateral factory opening should not occur again and all parties should be properly consulted…”

Just as hundreds of citrus growers were staging a massive protest in Pomona Valley on Tuesday, with one of its aims being to get government’s attention to help them solve an extended standoff between rival factions in the industry, the Government of Belize (GOB) issued a formal press statement in which it pledged to “continue to act as facilitator to help resolve these issues as quickly and amicably as possible.”

The Government has reiterated its stance, however, that it will steer clear of the controversy over the ownership of Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL) – the premier processor and exporter of citrus products in Belize.

Shareholders of the company—the CGA, majority shareholder, on the one hand; and Banks Holdings of Barbados, minority shareholder, on the other hand—have for years been locked in a dispute over the running of the company.

According to the statement, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture met with citrus industry stakeholders—including delegations led by the chairmen of the Citrus Growers Association of Belize (CGA) and Belize Citrus Mutual (BCM), and the Chief Operating Officer of CPBL—on Wednesday, October 25, 2012, and “the discussions were respectful and positive…”

In the meeting, attended by Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega as lead government rep, the parties undertook to “dialogue in a spirit of compromise to move the industry forward.”

Government notes, however, that these initial discussions would cover operation and regulation of the industry and not the controversy surrounding the processing company, CPBL.

CGA officials have persisted in their stance that given the national importance of the industry and the factory, CPBL, the government needs to intervene to help solve the crisis of what they described at today’s protest as a “headless” company, whose chairman only has the authority to chair meetings and not to steer the usual business of the company.

The government statement said that whereas “[t]he Ministry is aware that tension surrounding ownership and operations of CPBL has been brewing since 2006, including protracted legal actions in the Courts of Belize,” they “…urge maximum restraint and positive dialogue as the means to bridge these differences.”

It added that, “The Government of Belize will continue to act as facilitator to help resolve these issues as quickly and amicably as possible.”

The parties have agreed on a timetable for action:

Monday, October 29: Negotiate grapefruit price with CPBL, for CGA at 10:00 a.m. and BCM at 1:00 p.m.

Wednesday, October 3: CGA and the ministry will meet in Belmopan, so CGA can present its vision on the future of the industry.

CPBL will present to growers a first price submission for oranges.

Monday, November 5: Negotiations on the price of oranges will take place with CGA at 10:00 a.m. and BCM at 1:00 p.m.

By Thursday, November 22: All parties are to meet within a month to advance the dialogue.

The government did concede in its press statement that the factory did not properly consult with stakeholders before deciding to open CPBL to receive this year’s fruit harvest.

“The unilateral factory opening should not occur again and all parties should be properly consulted,” the government urged.

A major development in the industry is that the parties have agreed to move forward with amendments to the Citrus Act. According to GOB, “Certain fundamental provisions of the Citrus Act were found by the Supreme Court to be in violation of the Belize Constitution, and all parties agreed to undertake an urgent revision of the Act preceded by development of a long-term vision for the industry.”

Meanwhile, it also announced that, “BCM will set aside its request for appointment to the Citrus Control Board on the assurances that the law will be amended. The Control Board will now be convened.”

CGA will continue to be represented on that board, which is to be headed by the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche.

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