Don't shut door on sugar, James tells Wray & Nephew

J. Wray & Nephew Ltd (JWN) has been urged by an industry expert to not shutter the Appleton Sugar Factory in St Elizabeth, saying that the world-renowned rum maker could diversify its operations to stay afloat.

Karl James, chairman of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean (SAC), said that closure is not the only action.

Speaking at a town hall meeting at Siloah Primary School in St Elizabeth on Thursday afternoon, James argued that the Appleton plant could not survive by focusing on the production of brown sugar and molasses. He emphasised that JWN should consider tapping the production of cheaper alternatives to refined sugar.

“We are recommending answers to Appleton. We are saying, don’t shut the door. Let us engage with other people who can provide the expertise ... ,” James said.

“... The canes that you see out there will give us brown sugar, liquid sugar, plantation white,” he added.

Jamaica once produced upwards of 500,000 tonnes of sugar in the halcyon days of the 1960s, but Appleton, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, and Worthy Park Estate churned a combined 43,000 tonnes of the sweetener for the 2019-2020 sugar crop year. Appleton contributed just over 11,000 tonnes.

POTENTIAL BREACH

 Meanwhile, the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA) has warned that JWN could be in breach of the law if it followed through with its decision to close Appleton.

“The Authority is not in any position to accept your notice of closure of the Appleton Sugar Factory on the basis of one month’s notice,” a press statement issued on Thursday signed by SIA CEO George Callaghan said.

“You are to be reminded that the laws of Jamaica, including the Customary Law, requires at least one crop’s notice to be given to the SIA on behalf of Jamaican sugar stakeholders, especially cane farmers, who, by law, are prohibited from selling their sugar cane supplies to any sugar factory other than the factory to which they are registered.

“In view of the status of your actions, we now request that JWN Limited present the Authority with an agreement negotiated and executed between JWN and the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers’ Association (AIJCFA), the official representatives of the Appleton cane farmers per the Sugar Cane Farmers (Incorporation and Cess) Act, which sets out the terms and conditions for closure of the Appleton Sugar Factory in lieu of one crop year’s notice.”

The agreement will then be presented to the SIA board, which would then determine if it should make a recommendation to the Government to make an exception for the Siloah-based facility, the statement said.

The 195-year-old facility confirmed on Wednesday that 370 workers are to be made redundant after a decision was made to close down its sugar-producing operation, citing heavy losses over the past decade of approximately US$12 million annually.

“We have been sustaining continued losses from sugar production for a protracted period of time, and, therefore, the company was forced to consider the closure of its factory operation,” JWN Chairman Clement ‘Jimmy’ Lawrence told The Gleaner on Wednesday.

The closure of bars, tourism, and other routes-to-market due to the emergence of the COVID-19 disease also contributed to a lack of domestic and export earnings

JWN also plans to divest the farm operation to a third-party company while the company will subsidise the transportation of cane to Frome Estate in Westmoreland for the more than 300 suppliers of raw material to the factory. Plans are also in place to alleviate the impact on third-party farmers.

However, the Appleton Estate Distillery and the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience will continue normal operations, and the company says it maintains an interest in the rehabilitation of the rail lines from Montego Bay to enhance the Appleton Rum Tour experience.


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