SENATE Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said he will oppose the liberalization of sugar imports, citing the impact of rice tariffication, the policy cited as a potential model for the commodity.

“We’ve seen the impact of the Rice Tariffication Law. There is no (denying) that it has affected our farmers. And so, they are trying to figure out what to do nowkasi nangangapa pa rin sila (everyone is still adjusting to what has happened in the rice industry). We don’t want this to happen to the sugar industry,” he told reporters.

“I will fight against the liberalization of sugar industry for the precise reasons that it will kill 5 million people directly and indirectly and it will affect provinces nationwide,” he added.

The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) approves import permits and determines how much can be imported for the current crop year, based on assessments of domestic production. Imports are charged a 5% tariff.

In 2018, the SRA approved imports of 250,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar in August, and another 150,000 metric tons of raw and refined sugar in October. This was implemented to address projections of low raw sugar production in crop year (CY) 2018-2019, which at 2.073 million MT was lower than the revised target of 2.079 million MT and the initial target of 2.25 million MT.

Asked to comment, SRA Administrator Hermenegildo R. Serafica said the agency has yet to discuss the issue.

“I do not want to pre-empt kung ano ang decision ng (the decision of the) Sugar Board. We have yet to meet on this issue… we will discuss this matter soon,” he told BusinessWorld.

The Department of Finance (DoF) on Sept. 27 formally proposed import liberalization for the sugar industry, along the lines of policies adopted for the rice industry. It noted that removing restrictions on imports would allow for transparency, competitive pricing, and allow downstream industries to grow as fast as their ASEAN counterparts.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III signaled in July that the government is taking a close look at sugar imports because domestic prices are double the world market price, hindering the competitiveness of the food processing industry.

The Confederation of Sugar Producers (CONFED) has said that liberalizing imports would damage government efforts to develop the sugar industry.

“To be faced with liberalized importation at this point will lead to the demise of the sugar industry and will undermine all efforts of the Duterte administration to help the industry,” Raymond V. Montinola, spokesperson of CONFED said in a statement.

“Malaysia and Indonesia (strictly regulate) the entry of imported sugar to ensure that it does not compete and kill their own local sugar industries,” Mr. Montinola added. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang