Headline — 02 June 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
GOB “pussyfooting” around lawbreaker Santander

Santander “di tek wi fu fool!”

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 31, 2018– Santander, the Spanish multinational company which began operating in Belize in 2014, and which has been exporting its raw sugar and molasses to the Euro Zone in Europe, issued a press release yesterday, Wednesday, after the company was caught selling its sugar on the local market in violation of its Export Processing Zone (EPZ) certificate from the Government of Belize.

Santander’s incursion into the local market has infuriated the local sugar producers, who are up in arms against the company’s illegal move and who have fired off a letter to the Minister of Agriculture demanding a meeting.

The government has also moved to confiscate the unsold amounts of Santander’s sugar and reportedly is in the process of leveling fines for the company’s violation of its EPZ certificate after the company was served with a cease and desist letter from the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Commerce, around the middle of this month.

In a letter dated May 30, 2018, Santander said that it “regrets the action that led to the cease and desist letter from the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Commerce.”

The Santander press release said that the abolishment of quotas in October 2017 “have negatively impacted the price of sugar received from Belize-based sugar companies.”

Santander said that the collapse of the lucrative Eurozone market has led to the investigation of other markets and that the CARICOM market could be the savior of the Belize sugar industry.

“A considerable investment was made to restructure the Santander Sugar Factory to produce edible brown and white sugar,” the Santander press release said.

The press release went on to say, “An amendment to the EPZ was filed in February, and whilst waiting for acceptance, Santander began to explore market opportunities within CARICOM. We failed to realize that we needed an additional waiver for the local markets and apologize for this oversight.”

“With regret, Santander Sugar Ltd. appointed a sole agent within Belize with the purpose to explore the local markets to determine if the new products produced could capture markets based on colour and quantity alone. A limited quantity of 204 MT of white sugar and 12.2 MT of brown sugar was sent to the distributor to test these markets as a market survey,” said Santander.

Santander went on to explain that it would comply with all local authorities and reaffirmed its commitment to uphold Belize’s laws and procedures.

Santander ended its press release saying that the local market should be shared.

“Santander Sugar Ltd., our employees and our growers believe that the local sugar market should be shared by all Belize-based sugar companies in a fair and equitable fashion,” it said.

The three sugar industry associations: Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), Progressive Sugar Cane Producers Association and Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association (CSCPA), which had written to Agriculture Minister, Senator Godwin Hulse, on May 24, demanding a meeting to discuss the Santander developments, have still not met with Hulse, BSCFA Chief Executive Officer, Oscar Alonzo told us this evening in a telephone interview. Alonzo said it is his understanding that Minister Hulse is on vacation.

“A lot of developments have occurred regarding this matter”, Alonzo said.

“We understand that the Ministry has placed this matter into the hands of the EPZ Committee,” he said.

We asked Alonzo how the EPZ Committee is constituted.

The EPZ is comprised of representatives of the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Labor, Finance, Economic Development, and Finance; the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the small business sector and two persons with suitable knowledge from the industrial sector who are appointed by the Minister, Alonzo explained.

The EPZ Committee has about ten members, according to the Act, Alonzo pointed out.

We asked him what his organization thinks about the Santander press release, which speaks about testing the market and which, in one section, demands a share of the Belizean sugar market.

“We are rather surprised for a company that is supposed to have international stature to be conducting a market survey in that manner, without adhering to the requirement under the law; that tells us a lot about that company,” Alonzo replied.

“The fact is that Belize doesn’t import sugar. You are supposed to make a survey in the export market; even though Belize is a member of CARICOM, we don’t import sugar. It shouldn’t actually be done here. It should be in done places like Jamaica and the other Caribbean countries, because those are the people they want to sell to, under their EPZ,” Alonzo remarked, adding that “The market is too small to have two suppliers. There is no shortage of sugar. The market is already being supplied by sugar produced by our cane. Any sensible business person, if they are coming to invest in Belize, should make the proper market assessment. BSI has not failed to supply the market.”

“There is no justification for them to be granted a waiver, as far as we are concerned,” Alonzo said finally.

The government has estimated that as much as 750 metric tons of Santander sugar has been supplied to the Cayo, Orange Walk and Corozal Districts.

Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, the area representative for Orange Walk South, who is considered to be the Opposition People’s United Party’s shadow Minister of Agriculture, wrote on Facebook today: “Santander’s explanation is that ‘they were testing the Belizean Market’. That’s a lame excuse. We all know that that is a secured market with price control regulations. They also knew they were breaking the law. They were warned, but ignored the warning. This is a power play between Ministers of Government. Erwin Contreras supports Santander, while Godwin Hulse supports ASR and his personal wholesale business. Sad to say, that while elephants fight, the grass, in this case, 5,000 farmers and their families, are trampled.”

Minister of State in the Ministry of Trade & Investment, Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton, told News5 yesterday,”…It was on the tenth of May, I believe, we were alerted that there was plantation white sugar produced by Santander on the market, and so the ministry wrote them on May 11, after we had confirmed that yes, there was sugar in the marketplace in the north, that they had to cease and desist.”

On Tuesday, May 29, the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Commerce issued a press release on the matter of Santander selling sugar on the local market.

The government press release said, “On January 11, 2018, the company expressed interest to value-add its product to take full advantage of opportunities that may exist in the CARICOM Market. The company initiated the process to apply to the Export Processing Zone Committee for an amendment of its Certificate of Compliance and Operations Contract for its Export Processing Zone status to include the production of plantation white sugar. The final application remains pending and will be submitted for the review and consideration of the EPZ Committee once all the application requirements are met.

“On May 10, 2018 the Ministry was alerted that Santander was distributing plantation white sugar on the local market. The company was served with a letter from the Ministry of Investment on May 11, 2018, informing that the company must submit an official request for a waiver to the EPZ Committee for consideration if any sales are to take place in the local market.

“On May 18, 2018, Santander Sugar Ltd. wrote to the Ministry of Investment officially requesting a waiver for the sale of plantation white sugar on the domestic market.

“On May 24, 2018, the Ministry issued a cease and desist letter to the company after receiving confirmation that plantation white sugar was being distributed, despite the letter which was served to the company on May 11, 2018.”

The release continued: “In addition to its assessment and consultations on the matter, the Ministry has also been engaging with the Customs and Excise Department to determine a means to clear the local market from the sugar that had been supplied by Santander.”

In July 2016, Santander, which is located on a 20,000-acre area in the Valley of Peace, was cited by the Department of the Environment (DOE) for violating its Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) when the company dug two dams in the environmentally sensitive Whitewater area, and was issued with a stop order by the DOE. Santander was also fined by the DOE for this violation.

In May 2014, Green Tropics, a subsidiary of the Santander Group, sprayed herbicide in the Valley of Peace and destroyed about one million dollars worth of vegetables.

Santander eventually made peace with the farmers in the area when it compensated them with lands and relocation capital.

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