Thousands of jobs could go in new sugar regime - Rickards
Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association, has sounded an ominous warning to local sugar interests. He said thousands of jobs and the future of the country's sugar industry could be at risk, if local sugar production is not transformed from a single to a multiple-product sector to meet the 2017 reforms to the European Union's common agricultural policy.
The impending changes by the European Union will result in
the abolition of sugar quotas, bringing to an end the preferential treatment enjoyed since 1975 by African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) sugar producers, including Jamaica.
"All of this is elementary and is something that we should have done two or three decades ago," said Rickards, a leading player in the sugar industry, with more than 35 years experience.
"Now, Jamaica is years behind other ACP countries, where diversification is about one-third of their income, so not only could there be thousands joining the unemployment ranks post-2017, but sugar production in Jamaica would no longer be viable."
According to Rickards, there must now be a serious contemplation of the production of ethanol and other value-added products.
"These things are being thrust upon us not because we have been proactive, but because we now have no choice ... . This is an eternal disgrace," declared Rickards. "I have been hearing this being discussed for most of the years I have been involved in the industry, but I am now hopeful that because we now have no choice, we will take the decision we have to take regarding restructuring, marketing and diversification."
Karl James, the general manager of Jamaica Cane Product Sales, who has been championing the need for a diversified local market for decades, is unhappy that because the requisite changes were not made, Jamaica will now be forced to play catch-up to survive.
"I have advocated for value-added over the years because our sugar is only going to the bottom of the ships in bulk," said James, who is also head of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean. "This attracts the lowest price. More so, we have to improve on the quality of our product for 2017."
To date, only the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company has diversified its offering, using bagasse to produce energy, which has resulted in a significant reduction in its operation costs, as well as supplies to sell to the national grid.