Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite is against Government using taxpayers’ monies to bail out privately owned sugar plantations.
In fact, he believes there needs to be a full national discussion on the way forward for the dying sugar industry.
“I have very passionate views about the sugar industry, but I would leave the Minister of Agriculture to initiate that discussion. But it must be discussed in this country because it is the only industry that the taxpayers’ money is used to bail out . . . and then the owners continue to own the properties,” the Attorney General told a recent gathering at the incumbent Democratic Labour Party’s George Street, St Michael headquarters.
Before the audience that included noted historian and retired Barbados Ambassador to CARICOM Robert Bobby Morris, who is the DLP’s campaign manager for the May 24 poll, Brathwaite pointed out that none of his constituents whose houses were being challenged by the commercial banks for not paying could come to the Government and request that it pays their mortgages.
“But we can find it possible for generations, to pay for the debt of [sugar] plantations across this country and then give them back the same properties for them to live and support their families,” Brathwaite said in delivering another in the series of weekly Astor B. Watts’ lunchtime lectures.
“It is time for us to look at that. That is one of the things that historically it may have made sense, but in this new environment, I am not certain I am comfortable with us supporting these individuals like that with taxpayers’ money. In fact, I am sure that I am not comfortable with it,” he stressed with the sugar industry having drastically declined in production and profitability in recent years.
Earlier this month, it was announced that four sugar plantation factory yards with adjacent lands, would be sold as part of the state-run Barbados Agricultural Management Company’s divestment programme.
In the meantime, Government has been proceeding with plans to build a $200 million multipurpose sugar factory at Andrews, St Joseph, that would harness modern technology to produce products and by-products, such as molasses for the Barbados rum industry and green electricity.
Cane sugar farmers are currently being paid an incentive to increase the acreage planted in order to fuel the proposed new factory, which has been stalled due to a legal suit filed by a nearby property owner.
Back in September 2012, Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick said Barbados would stop exporting bulk sugar to Europe.
Estwick warned then it made no sense producing sugar at $4,100 per one tonne, and then selling it to the Europeans for $980.
“That is bad maths. I am not therefore going to support it,” he said at the time, adding that the sugar produced would be for domestic and regional consumption, within the context of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas – the treaty governing CARICOM.
Since then, the industry has lost the last vestige of its preferential market in Europe, as the EU abolished national sugar production quotas in Europe as part of a long-planned measure.
The effect, according to industry analysts, is that the price paid for African, Caribbean and Pacific cane sugar will rapidly reduce and cane sugar imports into Europe will fall.
They also suggest that this will depress world market prices.