Belize Gov’t To Hike Sugar Prices To Stem Contraband

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Facing sugar shortages government plans to hike prices in an effort to reduce illegal sugar exports to Mexico and Guatemala. Speaking at Friday’s meeting of the House Of Representatives, Minister of Agriculture and Supplies Control Jose Mai said his ministry will take a proposal for price increases to cabinet within the new two weeks.

During the House meeting, the Minister of Agriculture highlighted the price difference, highlighting that while a one hundred pound sack of white sugar in Belize costs $70.00, it fetches up to $187.00 in Mexico. Despite calls for intervention, both American Sugar Refining / Belize Sugar Industries (ASR/BSI) and the government have yet to address the issue effectively. Brown sugar which is a food staple, is sold by the sugar mills to wholesalers at 34 cents a pound, but the control price which is set by the Ministry of Agriculture, is 39 cents, leaving no room for profit and encouraging illegal exports across the border. There has been no price adjustment for sugar in Belize for 23 years.

For his part Prime Minister John Briceño told reporters after the House meeting that “We also have a social responsibility to the Belizean consumers. Secondly we cannot compete with the prices across to Chetumal. The brown sugar that’s being sold at ASR/BSI for 34 cents a pound is being sold for almost two dollars a pound in Chetumal Mexico. So if you want to say we have to raise to the price over there to stop the contraband it’s not going to happen, we’re not going to do that. But thirdly it’s also not fair on the cane farmers to have been in effect subsidizing sugar for the rest of our consumers and so the fourth point I’d like to make is that what he has said, the minister, is that we have to find a formula where we can justify an increase where it can assist the farmers and help to try to see how best it could slow down a bit the attempt to contraband but also we have to work on enforcement and there are a number of things.

“And what he was saying price control have been going to these supermarkets and telling them who do you buy your sugar from, where from and wanting to trace from the store to the wholesaler to ASR/BSI and by doing that reverse engineering you’ll be able to see who of these wholesalers are not selling to the local stores. And then after that we can go to ASR/BSI and say look these people are not selling the sugar to local market they’re allowing it to be contraband. And also we have to try to tighten as best as we possibly can our borders but as you know our borders are porous. We have a very large border you could cross almost at any point in our borders. So it’s a number of things we have to take into consideration and it’s not just a clear cut or just raise the price because that’s something we will not do just to raise it to stop the contraband into Mexico and into Guatemala.”

Belize produces around 160,000 to 180,000 tons of sugar annually and its annual consumption rate is around 13,000 to 17,000 tons.