THE Confederation of Sugar Producers (CONFED) is lobbying for a bigger role in moderating sugar imports, saying volumes should be based on projected domestic production shortfalls relative to demand.

The sugar producers are seeking to impose some measure of control on imports after economic managers cited the example of freeing up the rice import market as a possible model for sugar.

“CONFED reiterates its position is no longer avoidable due to the industry’s inability to meet domestic demand, these imports must henceforth be calibrated on the basis of a careful analysis of projected production versus demand, and in consultation with industry stakeholders in which the SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) would be the lead agency,” Raymond V. Montinola, spokesperson of CONFED, told BusinessWorld in a text message.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in July that the government is taking a close look at sugar import liberalization because price of the domestic product is double the world market price, weighing on the competitiveness of the food processing industry.

Mr. Montinola said the process of making accurate supply and demand projections will require updating industry data on area under cultivation and production estimates from various sugarcane-growing districts, as well as demand estimates from industrial users, food exporters, and domestic consumers.

He also called for better utilization of funding under the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA).

Asked to comment, Rolando T. Dy, executive director of Center for Food and Agribusiness of University of Asia and the Pacific, said sugar planters and food processors should first reach a “happy compromise” on the possible liberalization of sugar imports given their different needs.

“The former employs hundreds of thousand workers in Negros with no immediate alternative; the latter needs properly priced sugar to compete,” he said in a text message.

He also noted other considerations, such as “1) How competitive are our sugar-based products… like dried mango and banana chips?; 2) How competitive are our local sugar-based products compared to imports like biscuits from Malaysia?; 3) How much sugar is needed (for import) out of total demand?”

Eliseo R. Ponce, an international consultant specializing in Agriculture and Rural Development, said only sugar liberalization can drive the industry to become more competitive.

“We are so far behind… Sugar productivity is not at par with countries like Colombia or even Thailand, so dapat i-angat natin ‘yung (we need to improve) sugar productivity, to improve our production system, the varieties we plant,” Mr. Ponce said.

Mr. Ponce is a former director of the Bureau of Agricultural Research.

“Also the cost of production. We are not as mechanized as Thailand. We are still depending on manual labor,” he added. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang