TRADE Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said the sugar regulator needs to allow the food industry that sells to domestic markets to import sugar if local sugar prices cannot match import prices for the sweetener.

“SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) assured us they’ll make available lower-priced sugar especially for exporters. Kailangan ma-include (They should include) competitive prices of sugar for food processors for the domestic market,” he told reporters after the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. general meeting on Saturday.

Mr. Lopez said food processors need to be able to purchase domestic refined sugar at P1,900 per bag, instead of the P2,500 or P3,000 they sometimes pay.

SRA reported that the millgate price of refined sugar rose 3.47% year-on-year to P1,514 per 50-kilo bag in the first week of December, while retail prices ranged from P45 to P50 per kilo, down from P54 to P62.

Mr. Lopez said that SRA must grant import permits to food processors if the buying price of domestic sugar remains above that price.

“The principle is, we prefer local supply. Pero (But) give it at this price. Kung hindi niyo mabigay (If you cannot offer it) at this price, allow them to import. So ibig sabihin (This means) the local suppliers will be compelled to sell at a competitive rate of P1,900 per bag.”

“The challenge to the sugar industry (is) how can you be competitive, increase productivity, modernize… so that your sugar price can (fall) below P2,000 at least,” he said at the meeting.

The Department of Finance in September formally proposed sugar import liberalization. The Confederation of Sugar Producers opposed the proposal to remove import restrictions, saying that doing so would damage the sugar industry. — Jenina P. Ibañez