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PUP’s Northern Caucus supports BSCFA recommendations

HeadlinePUP’s Northern Caucus supports BSCFA recommendations

A commercial agreement between the millers, ASR/BSI, and the largest cane farmers association in Belize, BSCFA, is currently being negotiated between the parties. The PUP’s Northern Caucus supports changing the method of payments to farmers.

ORANGE WALK, Mon. Sept. 12, 2022

Last Wednesday, the PUP’s Northern Caucus met with members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) to listen to the recommendations being tabled by the largest cane farmers association in the country, during the ongoing negotiation of a new commercial agreement. The meeting took place at the Yo Creek Agricultural Station and, following that meeting, the PUP Northern Caucus released a statement in which they indicated their support for the recommendations being put forward by the cane farmers.

Present at the meeting were Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño and Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Jose Mai, both cane farmers and area representatives of constituencies in northern Belize. They have sided with the BSCFA in support of a change to the current payment method from one based on the Net Strip Value of Sugar, to one based on the Gross Revenue derived from the Sugar, one of the long-standing desires of the cane farmers.

During an interview conducted with Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño following the meeting, he shared that the farmers of northern Belize (a group that includes the Prime Minister himself) want the mill to agree to a 60/40 arrangement for the sharing of revenue from various sugar sales, and not just on the basis of world market prices.

“That is part of the negotiations, as to how you’d be able to come out with the 60/40 split. BSI has said, ‘Well, we are prepared to give you the 60/40 split, provided, then, that we are just going to pay you on the world market price and BSCFA is saying, no, we believe that it should be 60/40 split on the different sugars that you sell; the white sugar, plantation white sugar, the direct consumption sugars, and the world market price sugars,” Prime Minister Briceño said.

Those negotiations, which are aimed at having the parties agree to a commercial agreement before the start of this year’s sugar crop in the next four months or so, are currently ongoing, with both parties holding firm to the positions they have already put forward. Minister of Agriculture Hon. Jose Mai, a northern cane farmer himself, said that an agreement has to be reached, even if government intervention is necessary.

During his interview with CTV3, Hon, Mai said, “Both parties have to understand that there will be an agreement. There are no ifs and doubts about that. It has to happen, and if it does not, then the government have to intervene and decide what will happen, but we are going to have an agreement.”

The PUP Northern Caucus is in support of the request tabled by the BSCFA, and while the government was not involved in the meetings, two very influential government ministers, one of whom is the Prime Minister, backed the recommendations of the association.

In addition to an upgrade to the payment formula currently being used by the mill, the farmers are calling on the government to “urgently look at the outstanding premium payments to BSCFA for sugar sold under the Fairtrade label,” a release from the PUP Northern Caucus said.

According to Prime Minister Briceño, the mill has withheld those payments on the grounds that no commercial agreement is currently in place between the association and the company. Prime Minister Briceño said resolving this issue is also a part of the ongoing negotiations, adding that they support the BSCFA’s call for payment under Fairtrade.

“We support the call for BSCFA to have access to Fairtrade, which they have been unable to access simply because they are saying that BSI claims that because they don’t have a commercial agreement they could not have access to it. We believe they have a commercial agreement. That commercial agreement was extended for this crop, which will come to the end when the new crop starts. We believe they should have access to that,” PM Briceño said.

An interim agreement between the parties was signed in order to enable the commencement of the sugar crop late last year after a two-week delay. This delay resulted in tons of cane being left in the fields and significant financial losses for the cane farmers and the mill. A blockade at the mill by the members of the BSCFA and a march to the Prime Minister’s house preceded the interim agreement that was agreed upon late last year.

The sugar milling season will start in December, and the hopes are that a commercial agreement will be signed by sometime next month in October. Of note, a revision of the Sugar Industry Act is also a goal for the industry that the PUP Northern Caucus is supporting. GoB urges the parties to meet, “as soon as possible to reach an agreement equitable to both.”

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