The head of the company that manages Government-owned sugar plantations has urged protection against extra-CARICOM sugar imports.
Although the CARICOM Treaty prevents member-countries from banning each other’s imports, the sugar industry is meeting stiff competition from foreign states, the chairman of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company Winston Best has complained.
He told Barbados TODAY: “Everyone would be struggling if you keep importing [from] outside the region.
“It would be problematic. So in that regard, it would be useful if you can get some sort of protection from outside.
“The reality is that a lot of people are not producing a lot of sugar outside of probably Guyana.”
Best’s comments come on the heels of a series of developments in the industry.
These include sharply declining sugar production over the years, last week’s pronouncement by Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes that this country would never return to its glory days of sugar and a recommendation by the Association of Caribbean Sugar Producers to impose a tax on extra-regional imports to help ensure the industry’s viability.
The BAMC chairman supported the governor’s position that Barbados would not be able to return to the substantial levels of production when sugar was king and output figures were in six digits.
What is worse, he told Barbados TODAY, is that farmers are going out of business and the lands were being taken up by housing.
Best said: “It is a tough scenario because you are not getting the kind of tonnage to get the money; and then the world market prices are down.
“So you are in a hard position because you need sugar for the rum industry…molasses.
“But then, it is how feasible it is going. You are not going to make the kind of money that you would like to make, except you get into these special sugars, and what happens with the impact on that.”
He warned that the local industry was being confronted with a difficult situation where, while it could not return to its glory days, authorities still need to make a decision on whether to continue making the commodity locally in order to support the lucrative rum industry.
“It is one of those catch 22 that the industry is in. Unless you are going to discontinue sugar altogether and import it means you still have to be in there.
“The direction that we are looking at trying to do the specialties… special sugars, as opposed to the straight bulk sugar…we are looking at pursuing that to some extent, he said.”
The sugar industry boss suggested the idea is to see how the country could add value to the final product.
Best’s call for protection against foreign sugar imports is being supported by the spokesman for the independent sugar cane growers.
The chairman of the privately-run Barbados Cane Industry Limited, Mark Sealy, said: “The Barbados market should only be using its local brown sugar for direct consumption.
“Therefore there is a need for full protection of the Barbados brown sugar market.
“I think everyone would agree that it does not make economic sense to have Barbados sugar stored in a bond and have other sugar being imported and sold.
“In Florida, only Floridian sugar is sold.”
Sealy is also contending that Barbados could meet its requirement of 4,500 tons of brown sugar from local yields.
He said: “Barbados can supply the brown sugar market and I would suggest that Barbados brown sugar supplies the entire domestic market.
“How that is achieved is up to the Government. [But] a levy on all imported sugar is an option.”
Sealy also said that if any brown sugar remained, it should be exported for the best available price.