Features — 03 December 2016 — by Micah Goodin
The reason for 50% increase in tortilla prices

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 1, 2016–It appears that there is an importation monopoly on maseca, the raw material used to make corn tortillas, corn chips and other corn-based products used in the country of Belize.

To make masa, which is a key ingredient in tortillas, you simply add water to maseca, which is less labor-intensive than the traditional way of making masa, which involves boiling corn with white lime.

Interestingly, multiple sources, including the Belize Bureau of Standards, have confirmed to our newspaper that the country’s major importer of maseca is Eddie Vega, the eldest brother of former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Gaspar Vega.

According to reports, Vega imports an estimated 80,000 -100,000 pounds or a container loaded with maseca almost monthly from Guatemala through his company, Vega’s distributors, situated in Benque Viejo Town.

Vega reportedly received his licence to import the maseca sometime around 2009/10 after the United Democratic Party’s landslide success at the polls in 2008.

Cayo West’s Erwin Contreras was the Minister of Economic Development, Commerce, Industry and Consumer Protection in Belize at that time.

We learned that there have been cries from tortilla makers who claim that they are forced to submit to Vega’s pricing, which they find to be exploitative.

Andre Perez of Casa Pan Dulce Bakery wrote our newspaper today, Thursday, to register his discontent.

“The importation of this product is exclusively controlled by a Western importer who chooses to import from Guatemala due to proximity. Of course, this importer also enjoys protections in Government, and is jealously guarded so no one else gets a licence, since this is a lucrative business where they have the luxury of setting their prices,” Perez wrote.

“Prior to 2008, maseca was imported from Mexico and it was done by several importers who competed and therefore prices were competitive,” he further wrote.

According to Perez, back in the 2008 PUP era, Maseca was sold for $42 per bag and today, it is being sold at a whopping $62.50, even though its cost eight years ago may have only risen by a few cents in Mexico and Guatemala.

While Vega continues to be the leading importer of maseca by far, there are reports that the Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) has spent the last ten months preparing a draft policy that will review the procedures and rules in which licences are distributed so as to have them done in an equitable, transparent fashion.

The Director of BBS told Amandala that Tracy Panton, Minister of Investment and Trade, is very supportive of this initiative.

Furthermore, we were told that Vega’s Distributors may more than likely have to meet new requirements to maintain that licence if this policy document is backed by Cabinet.

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