The Ministry of Sugar Directors;
The Registrar, Sugar Industry Tribunal;
The CEO, Sugar Cane Growers Council;
The CEO, Sugar Cane Growers Fund;
The President, Fiji Cane Lorry Association;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
I’m delighted to be here at the Lautoka Mill to open the 2019 crushing season. We’ve made steady investments in this Mill over the years, and we have high expectations for its performance from today through November.
We already undertook refurbishments on the Mill’s diffuser last year, and this year we’re upgrading the Mill’s ability to prevent juice overflows, thereby increasing productivity. On top of that, a new one-million-dollar electronics control system has been installed for the cane carrier, saving time and money over the previous manual control process. And Mill staff have been full trained in operating this new equipment to maximise its positive impact on productivity.
Today, I’ll also be tipping over one of 40 new rail caged bins – funded by the European Union to the tune of $650,000 – which will mechanically ferry harvested cane and dramatically up the productive capacity of the Lautoka Mill.
Last season, this Mill crushed over 613,000 tonnes of cane and with that increased tonnage this Mill still achieved a TCTS of 8.6. This year, we’re looking to beat those figures. Not only because of the work we’ve done to make this Mill a model to the nation, but because of our commitment across every aspect of this Industry.
This year, we’ve allocated another $70.4 Million to support this Industry, an increase of $8 Million from last year. Despite the fact that our National Budget entered a period of fiscal consolidation, we haven’t cut a single dollar from the support we’re giving the Sugar Industry.
Those funds will continue to fund the guaranteed cane price of $85 per tonne, giving farmers confidence and certainty in the future. That figure is despite a forecasted market price of around $50 – so we’re guaranteeing over 30 dollars extra over that price all for your benefit. Our funding to sugar this year will continue to fund the Cane Payment Grant, which assisted another 4,500 farmers in 2018.
We will continue the fertiliser subsidy which has gone up by 50 per cent since from 2016 to 2018. And this year, we’re making that subsidy even more generous by raising it to $25.59 per tonne. And our funding towards the weedicide fertilisers will continue as well.
We’ve allocated Three Million Dollars to continue upgrading cane access roads. In our latest Budget, we also announced a new duty reduction on cane knives, which has now fallen to zero. And, as we currently do for cane harvesters, we have requested FCCC regulate prices for cane lorries, protecting our farmers from price hikes. We look forward to receiving the report from the Indian Government to massively upgrade our railway systems to accommodate higher loads of freight, reducing cane cartage costs for cane farmers, all for the benefit of your profit margins. The European Investment Bank has also demonstrated interest in this project, and we’ll have more announcements to make on that project soon.
Our campaign to mechanise this Industry is pressing onwards, full-steam ahead. The thirty new tractors we received last year have been deployed in cane fields across the country in addition to 72 mechanical harvesters, with another three on the way to Fiji. But the biggest announcement on the year, is that 117 six-wheeler trucks will be deployed around the country by the Fiji Sugar Corporation. These trucks will be put to use transporting cane from farms to the mills and we won’t hesitate to assist any farmers whose harvest is being held up for any reason.
The short version, is that this Mill and this Industry as a whole, are better suited than ever to produce high amounts of high-quality Fijian sugarcane. In the face of changing global markets, this Industry is changing as well, becoming more modern and more capable of reaching new buyers.
Friends, this is shaping up to be an exceptionally productive season for the cane industry in the Western Division in particular. Let me tell you why.
Here in the West, our harvesters, our lorry drivers and your Government are all wholly committed to making these next six months a success. Through our collaborative approach, we’re taking this Industry into the future, and I’d like to thank everyone who helped us prepare to get this season underway.
But before we officially open this season, I want to address an important topic.
For those carting cane, load limits have been clearly and repeatedly articulated over the past three years to give everyone time to come into compliance. But we’ve gone ever further, giving cane carters another two years to adapt by progressively implementing load requirements. This 2019-2020 crushing season, the maximum weight for any six-wheeler truck is 16.5 tonnes, next year that will drop to 15.5 tonnes and after that the FRA and the LTA regulatory rules will apply, as it does for trucks that drive in all other sectors.
Following these rules is extremely important, because – for years – overweight trucks grinding up and down our roads have been destroying our national infrastructure. It’s because of that law-breaking behaviour that we see potholes flaring up on our roadways like a bad case of the pox, swallowing tires, triggering accidents and bending axles. The degradation of our roads is a threat to public safety and it’s an unsightly plague on our roading infrastructure. Bad roads are also bad for business. Our lorry drivers here know that. You’ve all had to replace blown tires and broken axels yourselves. That cost adds up. The same goes for taxi drivers, minibuses, and ordinary commuters driving to work. We owe it to all of those Fijians to make sure the laws on overloading are enforced to maximum effect.
In our latest National Budget, we also announced that the excise duty on new trucks has fallen to zero, and the fiscal duty on second-hand trucks has fallen from 15 per cent to 5 per cent.
So, if you’re carting cane on your lorries, now is the time to upgrade your vehicles and get your older, inefficient trucks off the roads. If you’re found breaking the law by overloading, you will be fined. The same goes for any trucker carrying overloaded hauls of gravel, logs or other goods. That’s the law. And the same applies for every industry, everywhere in the country – no exceptions. That is what is necessary to keep our roads safe and protect our unprecedented investments to improve our road network.
I’m glad that our lorry drivers here in the Western Division have chosen to stand with Government and the people of Fiji is recognising that our infrastructure must be protected. You understand why these laws matter, for yourselves and your fellow Fijians, and why they must be enforced. And this crushing season, you’re going to show that by working together, productivity, profits and adherence to our laws can and must go hand-in-hand.
I see there are some lorry drivers in Vanua Levu who don’t want to adhere to these load restrictions, even with the ample notice and the exemptions we’ve given. But they must recognise that our roads are a tax-payer funded resource, and they must be respected as such. We can’t allow politicians behind the scenes pull the strings and lead us into rash action, we need to see the bigger picture and adhere to the laws designed to protect the interests of all Fijians. I appeal to all of the cane farmers and lorry drivers to follow the example set here in the West. Don’t let all of this historic assistance we’re giving to the Sugar Industry go to waste. Let’s work together, and let’s make this season work for everyone.
Friends, the world sugar market isn’t the same market it was twenty – or even ten – years ago. Dynamics are shifting and prices are becoming more volatile. As I mentioned earlier, the current forecasted price for a tonne of sugar currently sits at around 50 dollars.
But here in Fiji, we’re shielding our cane farmers from those ebbs and flows of the global market, we’re defraying your input costs, we’re mechanising this Industry and we’re guaranteeing a price that is nearly thirty dollars higher than the forecasted price of sugar, bringing our farmers stability and giving this Industry time to adapt to remain competitive.
When markets become more competitive – as is happening in the world Sugar Industry – it’s the innovators that come out on top. It’s those nations who maximise efficiency who survive and thrive. Fiji will be one of those innovative and efficient nations. At home, we’re modernising this Industry to maximise output and produce the highest quality sugar possible. Abroad, we’re exploring new markets and strengthening our existing relationships with international buyers. On every front, we’re putting the interests of our cane farmers first. Giving all of you, your families and the thousands of Fijians who rely on this Industry confidence in this Industry’s sustaining health and vitality.
Confidence that you can continue to support yourselves and those you care about. Confidence that Fiji’s growing economy means growing prosperity for this Industry. And confidence that your Government is fighting for you and your future, every day.
I wish you all a productive crushing season.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.