Sugar players upbeat after talks with PM
Following a meeting convened today at Government Headquarters by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, sugar industry players say they are more optimistic about the future of the sector.
The meeting had been called for by the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited following recent warnings from Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick that the industry was on the verge of collapse and that thousands of workers could go home.
This followed a pullout of all the major financiers of the US$250 million Sugar Industry Restructuring Programme (SIRP), as well as growing unease over Cabinet’s delay in approving an alternative funding proposal for the industry.
“The Workers’ Union called for the meeting because we were really seeking to have clarification regarding what was going on with the sugar cane industry, and agriculture more broadly, and I think that our expectations have largely been met from the discussions this morning,” BWU General Secretary Toni Moore told Barbados TODAY immediately following the talks.
The union boss said the main purpose of today’s meeting was not merely to address threats to workers’ jobs, but to specifically ascertain what were some of the future plans.
Chairman of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) Dr Don Marshall also said the country could now be optimistic about the future of sugar cane, even though there were some financial challenges.
He said a commitment was made at the meeting, which was attended by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, as well as Dr Estwick, to pursue a sugar cane industry, adding that the days of a sugar industry were over.
“We have been doing this since 1992/93 – the BAMC running a sugar industry at a loss. I think all the parties, including the independent farmers, have well accepted that we have to do something about this by way of moving towards a sugar cane industry. I think that was the major point,” the BAMC chairman added.
He said there were some issues to do with transitioning to a cane sugar industry and financing that process and the scale of operation required.
“How we would make a co-generation plant work, how we would make the other sugar by-products work. Those are details that would follow the securing of financing and investment but we need investor confidence locally and internationally.”
But even with international investor interest, he cautioned that Barbados had to examine how borrowing would impact the country’s debt repayments going forward.
Dr Marshall said the country was closer to getting investment with a proposal on the table.
“The Minister of Finance has indicated a reason to be optimistic for the immediate future. We are talking about the 2015 crop. After that the Government would continue to support the industry transition,” the BAMC head assured.