Letter of the Day: Will Kellier do nothing to save local sugar?
THE EDITOR, Sir:
This is an open letter to Derrick Kellier, minister of agriculture and fisheries.
I know that you are acutely aware of the precarious state of our sugar industry and that the livelihood of many dependents of it is in jeopardy. The industry is beset by many problems, not alone low productivity in the fields. Most factories are operating well below acceptable efficiency standards with some still producing raw sugar of inferior quality. These problems are now aggravated by a severe reduction in the negotiated price of our export sugar to Europe.
These low export earnings need to be cushioned by prices for raw sugar sold on the local market. So the industry needs to maximise its sales for raw sugar locally. What has been happening in recent years? Refined sugar imported duty free into the island is appearing on supermarket shelves and competing with raw sugar simply because the cost to the importer is less than the cost to manufacture raw sugar locally. The proof of this is that the sale of raw sugar has declined or remained stagnant over recent years. This has deprived local producers, farmers and manufacturers of a vital source of income.
No local agriculture-based industry can compete with duty-free imports. The dairy and beef industries were ruined by cheap imports and are struggling to get back to a semblance of their former stature.
You are aware, Minister, that if the market for chicken products was open to duty-free imports, there would be no poultry industry, no Best Dressed or CB Chicken. The sugar industry needs the same protection.
A year ago, you boldly got into the fray of addressing the effects of duty-free sugar imports on the Jamaica sugar industry. Your predecessors were aware of the problem but shied away from it.
Where do you stand at present?
I can assure you, Minister, that unless drastic action is taken to improve the earnings of the cane farmers and manufacturers, many of us will fall by the wayside, much to the delight of the importers of duty-free sugar. We in the industry are depending on you for forthright action.