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Belize High Court to decide fate of Guyanese rice imports

REFUSED ENTRY: A consignment of Guyanese rice in Belize.

The holding up of a consignment of Guyanese rice  by authorities in Belize has reached the High Court in that sister Caribbean Community (Caricom) member state.

Under Caricom’s trade rules, the grain is eligible for free movement of goods, but the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) has blocked the release of the rice on the local market.

If the 75 tons of  Grade A rice is released on the Belizean market, it would sold at 69 Belize cents per pound compared to $1.25 for Grade C rice that is being produced by that Central American nation.

Justice Young  on Christmas Eve Day gave lawyers for BAHA until December 31, 2015 to file court papers in response to an application by importer, Jitendra Chaula also known as Jack Charles, for a judicial review.

After the response is filed, the High Court will begin the hearing on January 4, 2016.

In the interim, Charles has to pay storage fees for the three shipping containers of rice to be held at Big Creek. The importer hopes that the High Court ruling will not only see the release of the rice but also a refund of all storage fees. Alternatively, he will have to return the rice to Guyana.

Concerns are being raised about the likelihood of the cheaper Guyanese rice displacing Belizean rice producers.

 “The matter is more than just about the price of rice. Rather, if the importer is proposing to displace the livelihood of at least 20 percent of our Belizean rice farmers, there must be a commitment to following the requisite procedures in the proper order, so as to safeguard the safety of the consumer in the long term, and to prove that the quality and standards justify the social and economic loss to Belize”, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry was quoted by the Belize Reporter as saying.

The Belize Agro-Productive Sector Group (BASG) has queried how many Belizean farms, farmers, farmhands, millers and distribution workers will join the unemployment line as another agricultural product, Belizean rice, is removed from the products we produce here in Belize.

“Currently the Belize rice industry supports almost 100 local rice farmers, 5 milling companies, more than 2000 field workers, employees, distributors, and their families. This does not include a host of gas stations, fertilizer and agro chemical stores, restaurants and mechanic shops to name a few businesses that depend on our rice production. On the other hand, Guyanese rice will support ONE importer and a handful of distribution workers,” the BASG release said.

Article 150 of the Treaty of Chaguaramas makes provisions for the importation, on the condition that Charles stays within 20 percent of the entire country’s market demand.

Charles has committed to importing 20 percent, stating that he is only providing a superior quality product at a reasonable price for the poor.