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Gov't intervenes to save major investments in sugar industry

Published:Wednesday | March 23, 2016 | 3:00 AM
This file photo shows a state-of-the-art cane harvester in operation at the Monymusk sugar estate owned by Pan Caribbean Sugar Company.

Education and Information Minister Ruel Reid says the Government is moving swiftly to try to keep the ailing sugar industry afloat as the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company Limited signals that it will close its operations in Jamaica by June.

Addressing journalists at the Holness administration's first post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House yesterday, Reid said the Government did not have an interest in taking over the operations of the company, but was seeking to encourage other private-sector interests to invest in the sector.

The closure of the sugar factories could trigger significant job losses.

Reid pointed out that Pan Caribbean, which operates the Frome sugar factory in Westmoreland, Monymusk in Clarendon and Bernard Lodge in St Catherine, had racked up losses amounting to US$60 million.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION

Reid told journalists that the huge losses resulted from a plunge, by about 40 per cent, in the price of sugar on the world market.

"What we are seeking to do is to see if we can get other private players, particularly to get involved in the sugar-cane cultivation part of it and proceed with diversification of the sugar industry and not rely on bulk sugar alone.

"There are a lot of acres of sugar, up to about 38,000. We feel that there are opportunities for collaboration with other players so that the business can remain viable, so you are not limited only to bulk sugar production but other aspects of the sugar-cane industry such as ethanol and energy generation."

The Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company had planted more than 2,100 hectares of new cane fields after taking over Frome.

In January, the company made the positions of 383 sugar workers redundant.

The company had pumped US$80 million in investment in new equipment and infrastructure works at the Frome and Monymusk factories.

In total, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company had invested more than US$200 million in the three sugar factories.

The company spent US$9 million to acquire the sugar factories in 2011.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com