FORUM: VIEWPOINT ON SUGAR

For merely to show that the overnight abandonment of the sugar industry would leave the country in chaos docs not dispose of Mr. Brewster. He is not- and as far as I am aware nobody is- suggesting that as a matter of policy Jamaica should abandon the sugar industry overnight. What Mr. Brewster has said is that there are some pessimists among economist who do not consider it at all likely that a planned phasing out of sugar will ever be undertaken. These people would therefore regard the collapse of the industry resulting, let us say, from a British decision to discontinue preferences, as a blessing in disguise. For it would force us here in Jamaica to rationalise the use of resources now engaged in sugar production as nothing else will.

But even this, I am sure Mr. Brewster would admit, is a peripheral argument, which- as he himself says- has not gained widespread acceptance, despite the fact that some people wish to give the impression that it is the point of view of all economists at the University.

The real argument has to do with whether, in fact, the resources now engaged in sugar production would yield higher returns, and therefore be in a position to contribute more to national income, and to national economic and social stability if they were used in some other way. This is the real core of the argument; yet it is precisely the point that Sir Robert Kirkwood would seem to have chosen to ignore. The reader, he says, needn’t bother with that.

To consider the argument, for a moment, exclusively from the point of view of land use, it would not be necessary to show-in order to make it succeed- that there is one single crop which we could profitably substitute for sugar over all the lands now devoted to its production. It is, for example, admitted that certain vegetables could yield immensely higher returns. But, answer the die-hard sugar men, a few thousand acres would produce all the vegetables we need. True enough, so convert only a few thousand acres to vegetable cultivation. Nobody is suggesting that we should turn at once to producing 200,000 acres of tomatoes.

But what about livestock production? I was reading recently a paper presented at a recent livestock seminar by Mr. H.A. Clark of Worthy Park. One of the points he made concerned the need for regional specialisation if beef production is to be carried out with efficiency. He suggests that breeding should be carried out in the hills and mountainous areas, and the yearlings taken to the plains and certain plateaux and fattened on heavily fertilised pangola pastures. Is it not possible that on this basis lands now in sugar-canes would yield higher returns from beef production, resulting in a saving of imports greater than the loss of exports? If this is so, is it not a waste of these resources to keep them under canes?

Certainly it seems to me to be a matter of common sense that the sugar we now sell to Canada at less than what it costs us to produce, ought not to be produced at all … not if you’re looking at the matter from a Jamaican point of view … though I concede that it might be quite different looked at from say, Tate and Lyle’ point of view.

I believe that Tate and Lyle owns refineries in Canada, as it docs in Britain and, in part at any rate, in the European Common Market. Tate and Lyle also owns estates and manufactures raw sugar in Jamaica for export.

Now when Tate and Lyle Canada buys sugar exported by Tate and Lyle Jamaica, Tate and Lyle can’t lose. If the price of raw sugar is high, Tate and Lyle Jamaica shows gains and Tate and Lyle Canada shows losses. If the price is low, Tate and Lyle Jamaica show the losses and Tate and Lyle Canada the gains. It is purely a matter of internal accounting for the world-wide Tate and Lyle organization. One might almost say that whatever happens to sugar Tate and Lyle will come out on top. But one certainly cannot say the same for Jamaica or any other of the Caribbean producers of sugar – just to confine the argument to this region.

This is not to suggest that Tate and Lyle are villains. They are merely people doing business, and as such concerned with their own interests, and seeking – quite legitimately – to perpetuate that business and to maximize their profits. But it explains the unbridgeable gulf between Sir Robert Kirkwood’s way of looking at things and Mr. Brewster’s. Sir Robert secs the world from somewhere in the region of Tate and Lyle’s standpoint. Mr. Brewster is a West Indian. The difference between them docs not really admit of rational argument. For if Sir Robert accepted Mr. Brewster’s premises he would have to admit that the sugar industry is largely a drag on this country; and if Mr. Brewster were an Englishman who made his living from sugar, he would probably be the first to say that the article he wrote was nonsense.

The rest of us are going to have to make up our minds, on this as on so many other matters, about who we are and where we stand.

 

Wilmot Perkins is a Jamaican journalist and radio commentator.