Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar was expected to meet with owners of the St. Vincent Cocoa Company (SVCC) on Monday to discuss their decision to cease operations here.
“There are many things, if they are exiting, which the agreement would cover and there are things which the agreement would not have covered, which they themselves would have to deal with,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told I-Witness News.
I-Witness News broke on the weekend news of the decision of the company, a subsidiary of Amajaro Trading Ltd., one of the world’s largest cocoa companies, to cease its operations here.
(Read earlier story: St. Vincent Cocoa Company ceases operation)
“… it is clear that they probably feel that the amount of money to be made … they probably feel that enough farmers haven’t come forward to plant cocoa; but the state will keep with the cacao industry,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News on Monday.
On Aug. 12, 2011, Gonsalves signed a 50-year agreement with Amajaro, which qualified for review after 20 years.
The agreement gave Amajaro exclusivity in SVG to buy cocoa beans, in wet and dry bean form and to perform all sales and marketing of SVG cocoa within the period of the agreement.
The exclusivity clause, however, made exception for cottage industry persons selling cocoa for consumption in St. Vincent.
“They haven’t spoken in any detail about the reasons,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News when asked what reasons the company gave for pulling out of St. Vincent.
“I think the general statement has been the new owners not seeing the light for a few years,” he said.
Bloomberg, a premier site for business and financial market news, reported in November 2013 that Armajaro Holdings Ltd. agreed to sell its soft commodities trading unit to Ecom Agroindustrial Corp., the world’s second-biggest coffee and third-largest cocoa trader.
The company’s trading arm, Armajaro Trading Ltd., reported a loss of US$7.6 million in the year ended September 2012, Bloomberg reported.
Gonsalves said that after the meeting, Caesar was expected “be in a better place to find out the precise way in going forward in light of the memorandum of understanding that we had.”
He said the Cocoa Company would leave is assets and infrastructure for the government for “continuation of the process”.
“We are interested in continuing the process. A company came in, if they decide for their own commercial reasons to pull out, it doesn’t mean that there is not a space for cocoa,” Gonsalves said.
Asked if the company had to give notice before ceasing operations, Gonsalves, who along with former Minister of agriculture, Montgomery Daniel, signed the agreement, said:
“I think they had to give a period of notice, but I think all those things Saboto will discuss with them.”
He said the government will see what can be traded off in lieu of notice.
“If somebody give notice and really does nothing, whatever is there many not worth any while taking over after the notice period. So, if we going to have a break in a manner which is beneficial — those are practical things and Saboto and his team will talk to them,” Gonsalves said.
“But we will continue with the cocoa industry and we will put machinery in place. The ministry had already spoken about having a cocoa and spice, condiments unit. This is an excellent opportunity to ground that in something going forward,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News.
“And who knows? Ecom may well purchase our cacao. We had a help from them (Amajaro) in the restarting of the industry and we can build on it going forward.
“And I don’t see that it should be closed as an option for our farmers. … we are accustomed as a people to make adaptations, so I don worry about these things. We move forward how we can, in the best possible way,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News.