A NEW sugar order is expected to be released by the end of May after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., approved additional imports of 150,000 metric tons of sugar, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

Senior Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban said at a briefing on Wednesday that the new import program will head off a projected shortage and stabilize sugar retail prices at between P80 and P90.

“Actually, everybody is talking about the large volume of sugar in the country today,” he said, adding that the impending imports will be smaller than last year’s.

“Our production was only 1.7 million metric tons (MT) compared to our requirement which is 2.2 million MT so (imports of) 440,000 MT were necessary last year. This year, we expect a shortfall of 150,000 (MT), maximum,” he added.

Mr. Panganiban said that the import program was finalized by Mr. Marcos, who is also the Secretary of Agriculture, yesterday in a meeting with government and industry stakeholders.

Asked about the targeted arrival of the shipments, Mr. Panganiban said: “We need to have it before September.”

He said applications to ship in the sugar will be “open,” with importers to be selected based on the standards set by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

In February, the SRA issued Sugar Order 6 authorizing the import of 440,000 MT of refined sugar. The shipment was privately awarded to three entities — All Asian Countertrade, Inc., (240,000 MT); Edison Lee Marketing Corp. (100,000 MT); and S&D Sucden Philippines, Inc. (100,000 MT) — with the DA citing the need to move quickly in bringing in sugar.

SRA Acting Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Pablo Luis S. Azcona has said that the imports will be “above board” and “open to all.”

Mr. Azcona’s estimate of the supply-demand balance was 3.102 MT in combined domestic production and imports, against demand of 3.151 MT.

On May 7, the SRA forecast the sugar inventory at a negative ending stock of 552,835 MT by the end of August.

Mr. Azcona added that the Philippines needs to maintain at least a 240,000 MT buffer stock before milling starts to prevent speculation that will send prices higher.

United Sugar Producers Federation President Manuel R. Lamata, who was also present at the meeting with the Palace, said that the new batch of imports will address the one-month gap as the industry transitions to the adjusted milling season.

“We were amenable to additional imports of 150k metric tons to supplement the month’s supply for August because the President wants (milling) to start in September to increase yields by 10%,” he said in a Viber message, referring to the additional sugar content expected if the crop is expected to develop further.

Mr. Azcona said that mills were forced to start in early August last year instead of the second week of September, producing immature cane and weak yields.

According to DA price monitors, the prevailing price of refined sugar in Metro Manila markets on Thursday was between P86 and P110. Washed sugar sold for P82-P90, and brown sugar P78-P95. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera