At the end of the slave trade, the sugar industry remained viable with indentured labour in Guyana, the Caribbean and elsewhere. However, its viable status has been at times threatened with the development of artificial sweeteners which also appeared viable and competed with sugar for European markets.
But beginning in the mid-20th century, the sugar industry began to decline as price on the world market for sugar decreased. Sugar could no longer be produced profitably in Guyana, therefore, Britain and the other colonial powers devised a system of preferential market arrangements which had guaranteed a quota and a price system above those on the world market for Guyana and its Caribbean colonies.
This help to boost the profits of British and American companies in the region where sugar was the main industry that sustained a number of communities across the country.
But it became clear that the preferential market arrangements for sugar were untenable in the long run. The British firm, Tate & Lyle, withdrew from them, because it claimed that it was operating at a loss.
The quantifiable losses that the sugar industry has suffered over the years in Guyana have not been matched by any sustained and solid returns to justify its continuance. This is especially the case today, yet it is not a truth that will be admitted by the opposition who has vested political interests in the industry.
Successive governments, but more so the last administration, propped up the sugar industry largely because of the industry’s importance as a crutch to political power. The major sugar unions which are implants of the PPP tried to preserve the industry and the livelihood of poor sugar workers and their families. But poor families have not seen any satisfying lasting benefits from the industry.
Those who have depended on the industry for a living have done so under horrible living conditions and poor compensation, despite union representation. As a conveyor of their economic and political interests, the unions, especially the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) realized that the sugar industry is still one of the strongest bastions for its existence.
Its alliance with the PPP government was meant to preserve it, even though it was not economically feasible to do so.
The truth is that the sugar industry is a sensitive and highly political issue for the PPP, therefore, it would have been a political suicide if it had allowed the industry to die during its 23 years in office. But with such huge losses, this government was brave enough to proclaim its death knell.
It is currently looking at more viable ways in which it can preserve a better livelihood for those directly affected by the closure of several estates.
Unlike the PPP, the government did not tinker or made cosmetic reforms and pretensions to close down some of the sugar factories before the problems became worse.
It seems clear to the present government, but not to the last government and the unions that the days of sugar as a viable enterprise with high economic returns and foreign currency earnings are over.
Instead of trying to prop it up or believing that by some kind of magic it can be revived was a pipedream. Even in the best days of the preferential arrangements that sugar enjoyed under the African, Caribbean and Pacific union, quota allocations were not met. Every year the industry fell behind target due in part to inclement weather or industrial unrest.
It is an illusion to believe that the glory days of sugar will return. Sugar is dead and should be given a decent burial.
Oct 16, 2018By Sean Devers in Trinidad In association with Regal, Vnet, Noble House Seafoods & Cascadia Hotel In murky conditions and played before virtually empty stands, Guyana Jaguars, led by a 79-run...
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