Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler yesterday put up a stellar defence of Government’s continued subsidization of the ailing Barbados sugar industry.
Speaking in Parliament on a resolution to guarantee a $70 million loan from the Ansa Merchant Bank to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company Limited (BAMC), Sinckler said while the industry was certainly past its glory days, an exit from sugar was not as easy as it seemed.
He further cautioned that any such exit must be carried out in a manner that the social and economic fallout would be less than that experienced in other islands.
“I am not an agricultural expert and I am certainly not a sugar expert, but I know that if we take the example of what other countries have gone through and the environmental, ecological, economic, social and other challenges that have emerged for a disorderly exit out sugar, we know that Barbados, being the type of economy that it is, can ill-afford that type of luxury, if ever it could be defined as luxury,” he said.
The Minister of Finance argued that while sugar is no longer king, it remained entrenched in the social and economic landscape of the country.
“Transitioning out of sugar was not an inexpensive exercise, it is an extremely expensive exercise and one fraught with much difficulty and, even for some people involved in the industry, trepidation.
“We understand that even though sugar is no longer king in Barbados and tourism and other activities have taken centre stage, we know that because this plantation type economy that we have developed has been centred around a ridiculous set of activities for hundreds of years, it is not so easy as people seem to believe that it is; that you can just, as the old people would say, knock off the sugar industry like a hoe handle and then rush off into the sunset pretending that hundreds of years of history, embedded relationships, incestuous relationships, no longer exist.”
Sinckler contended that it was for this reason that Government continued to tread carefully in developing an appropriate response to the shortcomings of the industry.
“We have, as the saying goes, hastened slowly to try to develop an appropriate response, first for a restructuring of what we believe ought to emerge from the remnants of what is left in the sugar industry, but understanding in the context that to exit without a particular set of things in place would be to create far greater damage to the Barbadian economy and society,” he stressed.
The BAMC loan will assist the company in meeting its expenditure, including cost related to the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project.