Divestment of Sugar Industry to End in June 2008 – Minister


Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, has outlined the government’s schedule for the divestment of the sugar industry, which should culminate in June 2008 with the handing over of assets to the new owners.
He said the government would be taking all the necessary steps to protect the interest of the workers in the industry in particular, and of Jamaica in general. “The government of Jamaica, and certainly myself as Minister of Agriculture, is committed to the survival and the expansion of the sugar cane industry in Jamaica. We believe that the industry has a bright future here in Jamaica,” the Minister said. He was giving the main address at a ceremony to mark the official launch of the 2007/08 sugar crop, held on the grounds of the Frome sugar factory in Westmoreland on December 21. The crop is scheduled to officially begin on Wednesday, December 26, 2007 and ends in May 2008.”We believe that the sugar cane industry is too important to the development of so many communities across the length and breath of this country to ignore it. Rather, we believe we need to invest in it to further develop the industry to ensure that the industry not only survives, but the industry flourishes,” Dr. Tufton said. The Minister said that thousands of Jamaicans benefited from the sugar industry, both directly and indirectly, and the sector provided a great deal of export earnings for the country.
He argued that there were certain realities that had to be taken into consideration for the survival of the industry, chief among them the profitability of the industry and the necessity for capital injection to achieve that level of production, which would make the industry competitive.
Dr. Tufton said there was also need for additional management and more production capacity. “So, we have some investors coming in. Last week we sent out, what we describe as an Information Memorandum. That has now gone out to the eight prospective bidders, people who are going to offer an option, a price, as to what they would want to do if they were to come in. We are giving them until the end of January (next year), and they will, during that time, submit to us what their offer is,” he said. “During the month of February we have a sugar negotiating team that will engage in a process of evaluation. They will be looking at the proposals, and determining which of the offers on the table from these eight prospective buyers is in the best interest of the industry,” he added. The Minister said by early March the first ranked bidder would be identified, and negotiations with that company would begin. “But I want to make a couple of things clear. Firstly, we are not selling the precious lands that are used to cultivate sugarcane, we are selling the factories and a small space of land around the factories, and we are leasing the lands, because we believe that we must keep control of the lands,” he emphasized.
Dr. Tufton explained that the government’s role in the whole divestment process is to ensure that the industry remains viable and continues to operate in the best interest of those directly involved and the country at large.

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