Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association signs commercial agreement with the American Sugar Refinery/Belize Sugar Industries

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After days of negotiations over the terms of a commercial agreement between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and the American Sugar Refinery/Belize Sugar Industries (ASR/BSI), the two parties finally inked the new contract on Monday evening, January 8th. The negotiations occurred at the Yo Creek Agricultural Station near Orange Walk Town in northern Belize, where Prime Minister Honourable Dr. John Briceño acted as mediator.
The success of the meeting was attributed to the face-to-face format involving senior representatives from ASR/BSI and the BSCFA. The signature of the agreement ended with a standoff between both entities that was delaying the new sugar harvesting season. The first step to sealing the new contract started on January 4th, when the cane farmers accepted the renegotiated agreement. Some of the main hurdles included the throughput charges, terminal fees the BSCFA members were expected to pay, and their demands for fair-trade premiums payments for the previous two crop seasons. While they accepted the agreement, the association did not immediately sign it.ASR/BSI’s Director of Finance, Shawn Chavarria, explained those port charges have always been a core part of the commercial agreement and are included as a shared cost. He stated that it is not something new. He noted that the same contract was signed with the three other associations in northern Belize, but BSCFA wanted a new agreement without these charges. ASR/BSI stated that they had done all the presentations, shared all the information, and certainly included the key price estimates that the other associations stipulated in the previous agreement. The company added that moving forward, they want to ensure that it is clear to all parties what now constitutes the shipping costs, of which throughput fees are one of them. However, no agreement could be accomplished on these fees, which will be analyzed for the next three months.
The new deal was almost dashed when, on Monday, the cane farmers started showing discontent and claimed the sugar factory was trying to change the terms of the agreement. ASR/BSI denied such claims but refrained from further commenting to reach a solution. The members of the BSCFA stated that a protest could start again as in the previous days if no compromise was achieved. Prime Minister Briceño brought representatives of both parties together at the Yo Creek Agricultural Station and challenged them to solve the issue.
After much debate, an agreement was reached late on Monday night. The signed agreement is for two years, and the Government of Belize commits to providing $1 million for fertilizers to the BSCFA if fair-trade premiums are not obtained in a separate agreement with ASR/BSI parent organization Tate and Lyle Sugars. There will also be a Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry and an economic analysis of the throughput charges and terminal charges at the Port of Big Creek in Independence, southern Belize, over the Port of Belize in Belize City. This will be done by one of Belize’s top agronomists, Hugh O’Brien. A report will be submitted within three months with a conclusion on whether the charges are justified.
As of Tuesday, January 9th, the sugarcane harvest is officially opened, and delivery of sugarcane to the factory in Tower Hill outside Orange Walk Town can now take place. The season is expected to last until August. The sugar season this year is expected to address the current sugar shortage currently affecting the country.

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