THE Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has filed a resolution asserting its legal authority to regulate sugar imports amid proposals to liberalize the import rules governing the commodity modeled after rice tariffication.
The SRA cited Executive Order (EO) No. 18 series of 1986, which created the agency.
The EO outlines the policy of the state “to promote the growth and development of the sugar industry through greater and significant participation of the private sector and to improve the working condition of laborers.”
The SRA also cited Republic Act 10659 or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act of 2015 which authorizes the agency to “classify imported sugar according to its appropriate classification when imported at a time that domestic production is sufficient to meet domestic sugar requirements.”
“The Bureau of Customs (BoC) shall require importers or consignees to secure from the SRA the classification of the imported sugar prior to its release,” according to the law.
The resolution was filed as sugar industry stakeholders were gathering opposition to Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno’s pronouncement to liberalize sugar importation, moving away from the quantitative restriction regime.
The resolution noted that the sugar industry contributes an estimated P96 billion to the national economy from the sale of raw sugar, refined sugar, molasses, and ethanol, and P5 billion in value-added tax payments on refined sugar. The industry also employs 720,000 workers in 20 provinces, including 82,000 farmers.
In a text message, SRA Board Member Roland B. Beltran said liberalizing sugar imports will endanger the industry.
“Our sugar production is enough for our domestic consumption. However, if we forecast tight supply for the crop year, we can always import sugar as we have done so in the past,” Mr. Beltran said.
“The idea of import liberalization of sugar will kill the sugar industry. It will deprive thousands of small farmers and sugar workers of their livelihood. The fact is that price of sugar remains stable, fair and reasonable. It is market-driven,” according to Mr. Beltran.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) meanwhile said that liberalizing the importation does not mean the domestic sugar industry would die off.
“Because the local industry is finding itself in a position where the local price of sugar is higher than the imported price… I think the sugar industry can survive if it improves productivity. In the Philippines, the majority of farmers that own sugar plantations have five to 10 hectares, so if you talk about productivity with land that small, you cannot maximize it,” PCCI Chairman George T. Barcelon said in a phone interview on Thursday.
“I think over time, these farmers should form cooperatives and use more advanced technology and mechanization to improve their productivity so they can compete. We are now exporting because US gives us preferential rates on sugar but our production costs compared to the other sugar-producing countries are much higher. The local industry has been protected for decades. I think the protection given has gone on long enough and they should realize that in this era of globalization, everybody should be competitive.”
According to Mr. Barcelon, sugar will not flood into the Philippines even with liberalization.
“[With] the convenience of having local milling, I think they will survive…They have to improve their productivity and government must also provide them with proper infrastructure,” Mr. Barcelon said. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio