Trade dep’t drafting direct-importation plan for sugar

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THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it is setting in motion a plan that will facilitate direct sugar imports by users of the commodity, as a means of cutting out middlemen and reducing prices.

“We are discussing how to execute it. We hope to conduct expedited consultations. We hope to have a policy within a month,” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told reporters in Pasay City on Thursday.

Mr. Lopez has said that inflation drivers include supply pressures for key commodities like sugar, and views the liberalization of the import process as a means of arresting the rapid increase in prices.

He added that there is a “general acceptance” among economic managers for the need to change the current system to allow sugar users to import, thereby making the supply chain more direct.

“The principle is that (the final scheme) should result in lower costs for imported sugar,” Mr. Lopez added.

Sugar import permits are currently coursed through planters’ associations and traders, a process that Mr. Lopez criticized as imposing additional costs, to the detriment of consumers.

“The system in place now limits it to selected parties, and a fee needs to be paid to planters and millers. I do not understand that,” Mr. Lopez added.

The DTI is proposing a parallel liberalization of sugar importation in exchange for higher tariffs, similar to the system being proposed for rice.

Mr. Lopez said the plan will not result in an influx of cheap sugar and that measures will be in place to protect farmers.

“We will probably devise a system… so prices will not fall too much, to the detriment of the farmers,” Mr. Lopez added. — Janina C. Lim