Cane farmers to fight illegal sugar imports
Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
The executive of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association on Friday reiterated its support for what it described as the "brave decision" by Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier to re-instate the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA) as the sole importer of refined sugar and warned that it would resist any and all attempts by influential members of the business community to get the minister or government to rescind his decision.
Cane farmers had welcomed the surprise announcement to delegates which came during their 74th annual general meeting at the Jamaica Pegasus on Wednesday, November 5; a decision the minister said was taken to address the "alarming problem of leakage of government revenue under the current system, whereby duty-free imported refined sugar intended for the manufacturing sector finds its way into the retail trade".
Describing the new measure as a "retrograde decision", the following day, the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) issued a release announcing that it had reached out to the prime minister, as well as the agriculture and investment ministers to request an urgent meeting to resolve the matter.
However, Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Cane Farmers Association, made it clear during a press conference at the North Avenue, Kingston head office on Friday that its members, who number in excess of 6,000 and whose operations directly or indirectly touch the lives of an estimated 250,000 persons in rural Jamaica alone, would engage all industry stakeholders to resist any reversal of the minister's decision.
"If I hear any MP (Member of Parliament) or councillor opposing this new regime, we going to make sure that our sugar people in any election disavow support for them, and is 23 constituencies (in which there are sugar communities), and we not joking about this thing," he told The Gleaner after the meeting.
"Some of them (parliamentarians) have two mouth; when them having lunch in Parliament, them wheel and forget, and I don't care which strip it is - green or orange, we tired of it."
Rickards had the support of the executive which endorsed his sentiments on the grounds that it was necessary to stem the estimated annual $1 billion loss in tax revenue, as a direct result of abuse of the system which allows for the duty-free importation of imported sugar as raw material.
In its release, JMA had countered this allegation, declaring that: "Whereas leakages had been reported, no data have reported to confirm a significant amount comparable to usage by legitimate manufacturers to warrant such action."