August 19, 2022

Jamaica: Gov’t moves to find new investors for Pan-Caribbean operations as Chinese prepare to pull out

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Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 10.18.30 AMBy Alphea Saunders From Jamaica Observer

The Government is scrambling to find investors to inject new life into the operations of Pan-Caribbean Sugar Company, which the Chinese outfit has given notice will grind to a halt by June.

The shutdown, if it happens, will come on the heels of the completion of the 2016/17 crop, which is already underway. With the International Sugar Organisation forecasting of a 6.2 million tonne deficit in the world sugar market for 2016/17, local stakeholders have repeatedly called for diversification of the industry, pointing to the expected 40 per cent drop in the price of raw sugar on the European market this year.

“This is a very urgent matter and we need to find a way forward. The Government is moving swiftly to intervene, not take over the operation,” Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid told journalists at a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House yesterday.

He said there are “good prospects” so far for investment in the over 30,000 hectares of cane lands and its attendant operations. Reid revealed, too, that so far the company has suffered an accumulative loss of US$60 million.

“What we are seeking to do is get other private players, particularly, involved in the sugar cane cultivation part of it, and proceed with diversification of the sugar industry and stop relying on just bulk sugar again,” he said.

At the end of January, Monymusk cut 385 workers. The company said the positions had been made redundant because, with the continued modernisation of operations at the estate, they were no longer relevant.

Harold Brown, deputy island supervisor in charge of the sugar cane sector for the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union — which represents the workers — told the Jamaica Observer that the union has not been advised of any eminent shutdown or takeover.

“Up to yesterday, they (Pan-Caribbean) were a part of the union negotiations. What I know is that there have been some challenges at Monymusk. There is uncertainty concerning how the fields are going to be cared for going forward,” Brown stated, noting that he was only aware that Agriculture and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda and Rudyard Spencer, member of parliament for Clarendon South Eastern in which Monymusk is located, had toured some plants recently.

“They haven’t called the union to discuss anything about the future,” he said, noting that although the 2016/17 crop started late, it was progressing “fairly smoothly”.

Pan-Caribbean is the local subsidiary of COMPLANT International, a Chinese-owned company to which the Jamaican Government sold its assets in the Monymusk, Bernard Lodge and Frome sugar estates and associated lands for $774 million five years ago.

Following the acquisition, Pan-Caribbean made a number of major investments in the operations, mainly involving retrofitting and upgrading of machinery. This has resulted in hundreds of mainly agricultural or field workers being sent home.

IMAGE: Sugar Deal Sours

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