Low sugar prices will be used to close estates

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Dear Editor
THE Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has taken note of a press statement by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo), regarding the world market price of sugar. Our union believes that the ‘sad story’ statement will be used as another sordid justification to launch further assaults on the sugar workers in an effort to whittle away their gains won by several generations of workers and which resulted from their struggles.

The GuySuCo statement, maybe conveniently, fails to tell the sugar workers and the Guyanese people that the world market is a residual market and is far from being reflective of true costs of production globally. The world market price remains what it is because every sugar-producing nation offers their respective producers some form of State-support which tends to lend to some over production. Such Government assistance is premised, among other things, on the employment directly and indirectly supported by those industries. It seems only in Guyana that we have failed to recognise this noteworthy fact.

Furthermore, GuySuCo’s sales to the various markets are contractual and negotiated between the corporation and the respective buyers. We understand that earlier this year, GuySuCo received between US$495 and US$550 per tonne of sugar it sold to Tate and Lyle, through the European Union (EU) arrangement. Prices to the U.S., Caricom and local markets are even higher than what obtains in the EU. While GAWU accepts that the EU reforms will pose some difficulty, the corporation is also well aware of other remunerable markets that it could exploit. Moreover, the recent registration of the Demerara Sugar and Demerara Molasses as Geographical Indicators and work to secure the protection of the brand in Europe offers the corporation good opportunities for higher prices.

The volatility of the sugar markets also calls to attention the need for the corporation to diversify its operations into other areas such as electricity, alcohol, packaged sugar and refined sugar as recommended by the Sugar Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and shared by our union and others. We found it interesting that while GuySuCo is shedding crocodile tears, we see on news-website Demerara Waves an article about the interest of several “reputable” companies who are considering investing in the sugar industry. It is indeed a strange coincidence that both stories appeared not too long after each other. Maybe it is just coincidental or maybe it is a case of there being more than what meets the eye.

The contrasting sentiments between the GuySuCo statement and the Demerara Waves report gives credence to the notion that the wool is being pulled over our eyes. All is not lost in sugar as demonstrated by the investors’ interest, it is far from it. We ask if private owners can do it, why can’t GuySuCo? Every day it is becoming clearer that politics and not economics is guiding the approach to sugar and the thousands who depend on its operations.

Regards
Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union