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On Tuesday the representatives of the Belize Sugar Industry and ASR group, Belize Sugar Cane Farmer’s Association, and the Sugar Industry Control Board finally met after repeated requests by the BSCFA to have a third party intervention.  Now, while the SICB acted as a mediator in this round of discussions, and both principal parties agreed upon three major points, the process of negotiations is still, as they put it, a “very delicate” matter. The two major points of interest to the BSCFA to have the SICB’s participation in the process are to recruit an independent expert in the negotiations for revenue sharing for bagasse and secondly to set a date for start of crop with an interim agreement signed.

The BSCFA has stated that it is within their interest, like BSI’s to start the crop early. This was mutually agreed upon yesterday and both parties cited December eight as an ideal start date. Both parties also agreed to restart negotiations but nothing specific was settled upon. In an interview late yesterday evening, Chairperson of the SICB Gabriel Martinez would not go into details of the discussions. Today, representatives of BSCFA elaborated more about the results of yesterday’s meeting and how they hope the matters are addressed in a favourable manner for all sugar stakeholders. Dalila Ical reports.

Dalila Ical – Reporter

Screen_Shot_2014-11-26_at_8.39.07_PMOscar Alonzo – CEO  BSCFA

“We both need to have a strong relationship in order to move this industry forward but we want this relationship to be based on principle of economics justice and fairness to the farmers and this is where all our efforts still is focused on the principle of negotiations.”

And in that spirit, CEO Oscar Alonzo says the BSCFA needs more time to negotiate on specifically five major points – cane ownership, payment for bagasse, who coordinates and manages the harvesting of the cane, how to settle disputes according to the sugar industry act and the term for the agreement.

These points though were not necessarily the point of focus in Tuesday’s meeting but rather a way forward from the impasse caused by the inability of both the BSCFA and BSI to reach an agreement.

Taking precedence was the start of the next crop and both entities agreed on the need to start early identifying December 8th as the most ideal date.

Oscar Alonzo – CEO  BSCFA

“The fundamental difference is on how, we have been saying we can start it with an interim agreement, they have even insisting even in the meeting that they don’t want to sign an interim agreement that they want to resolve it and we saying fine let us sit down still and negotiate an agreement and we, once you come to the table we want you to come with a serious intention to negotiate not to discuss as to how they were indicating that they only want to come and discuss, we don’t want to discuss we want to resolve this issue favourably.”

From their assessments, BSCFA says there is about 1.475 million tons of sugar cane available for processing as farmers have heeded the request to increase production. Yet, the mill only has a capacity of processing 1.35 million tons which places more urgency for an early crop so that farmers avoid losses.

Oscar Alonzo – CEO  BSCFA

“If we don’t start the crop on that date we run the risk that the cane that is out in the field, a substantial portion will be left and the weather is favouring us, it has change recently now I don’t know if God is upset in the way BSI has been behaving with us now right but it seems to be the same thing last year whenever BSI started to stick to its ways they God send down the rain and so but we see a heavy down pour yesterday we don’t know, right.”

BSI has indicated that they need to consult their principals to see if and when they can return to the negotiating table on the other matters. BSCFA is saying the cut off time for a response is next week, as early as Monday.

Oscar Alonzo – CEO  BSCFA

“We have told the sugar industry board we will act on what our membership have said, if we want to start the crop if it means with an interim agreement we need to start it if not we will put into effect the actions that the membership have said which is to hold a national social protest to let the authorities understand that this is an industry of national importance and BSI should be preventing the crop from beginning because it wants an agreement according to its own criteria, we can begin the crop, all parties benefit and the sugar will be produced and the exports will be made, foreign exchange will be coming in, the different businesses will be able to do business, people will continue to have their jobs and so on that is really important, an interim agreement could allow that and we continue to negotiate.”

And while the BSCFA says they are optimistic about a favourable way forward, they feel that BSI is holding back to see how their efforts to negotiate individually with farmers will play out.

Oscar Alonzo – CEO  BSCFA

“They have given until 28 of this month for farmers to go in and sign the contract that they have been offering them which is essentially contains the same clauses that we are saying, they are saying that they have given the farmers up to the 21 to submit suggestions for them to amend the contract and see if that would be amenable to the cane farmers to sign individually or by their own associations but we feel that it might not be change so it is a matter of thing that they are still on that approach and trying to see if that then has results then it will more or less give them the assurance that they don’t need to sign an agreement with us and we have advised our farmers.”

Alonzo adds that they are not telling farmers not to sign but rather to exercise caution. Alonzo adds that the association has received indications from Corozal that farmers are in support of the association’s position.

The BSCFA is holding an Annual General Meeting on Sunday and are hoping to get feedback on Friday from the SICB as to BSI’s position on meeting with them next week. BSCFA will be deciding on further action on Sunday through consultation with farmers on how to proceed next week.

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