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Liberalized imports seen killing off sugar industry

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PHILSTAR

MEMBERS of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) board said moves to liberalize sugar imports will lead to the “demise” of the sugar industry and generate unrest in sugar-growing areas.

“The recent announcement of Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno to liberalize sugar importation will spell the demise of the sugar industry and foment social unrest in more than 20 provinces nationwide,” Emilio Bernardino L. Yulo, SRA Board Planters Representative, said in a statement on Sunday.

“Open-direct Importation is not the answer. Time and again, we have called on the Department of Trade and Industry to help monitor and curb sugar prices in the market because of the great disparity between the retail prices of sugar from millgate prices,” Mr. Yulo added.

Mr. Yulo, in a joint statement with SRA Board Millers Representative Roland Beltran, said that it is not the farmgate or millsite price of sugar that is high, but the retail price.

The board members said according to SRA Price Monitoring, the price of domestic raw sugar has decreased nearly 7% to P1,575 per bag as of Jan. 6, 2019, from P1,693 per bag in September.

They also said that not all retail outlets are selling sugar at P60 to P64 per kilo, as the prevailing price of refined sugar at retail level is P50 per kilo.

“Focus and investigation should be on retail outlets that have kept their prices high when farmgate and prices in other retail stores have gone down,” according to the joint statement.

“Food exporters are allowed to import sugar subject to monitoring by SRA. In 2018, a total of 62,250 metric tons (MT) of sugar were allocated to food exports/processors. The reason SRA monitors importations of food exporters/processors is to prevent the leakage of the imported sugar into the domestic market, and defraud government of revenue. Sugar imports of food exporters/processors do not pay tariff and value-added tax provided it is strictly used in the manufacture of food products for export,” Mr. Yulo and Mr. Beltran said.

“We have to deregulate most of the agricultural sector. That’s the direction now of the government, like freer importation of all food products,” Budget Secretary Diokno said last week, noting that sugar will be next, following the proposed rice tariffication law that will remove quantitative restrictions on importation of rice to help lower the price in the market while the tariffs will go to a fund for rice farmers.

“Next is sugar. That’s bloodier than rice. It’s one of the inputs to our potential exports. All the commodities, it turns out… were so restrictive with respect to agriculture,” Mr. Diokno said.

Mr. Yulo said that the sugar sector has more to lose when the national government decides to open the country’s doors to liberalized importation of sugar, and he urged stakeholders not to be complacent.

“We are a much bigger industry that has more to lose if our country opens its doors to open and direct importation than those in the food processing business who have been clamoring for the entry of imported sugar. With this new development, I urge the sugar leaders, particularly the small farmers and agrarian beneficiaries, and the hundreds of thousands of sugar workers, not to be complacent and let the national government hear the voices of the millions of sugar stakeholders that will be affected by this,” Mr. Yulo said.

“Open-direct importation is not the solution. Let’s go after the greedy traders and retailers who are capitalizing on the situation at the expense of the sugar farmers and producers,” Mr. Yulo added.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) earlier expressed its desire for open importation of sugar, stating that without pursuing such move, prices of foods and beverages which use sugar as ingredient, will go up.

“More drinks that contain sugar are being imported to the detriment of our producers,” PCCI Chairman George T. Barcelon told BusinessWorld in an interview on Dec. 27.

“Toward the latter part is to abolish the SRA. They may not exactly abolish it but clearly state what is the agency’s authority. The SRA is not helping the sugar industry. Our sugar is expensive, and they’re passing on the cost to consumers,” Mr. Barcelon said. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio