SRA sees ‘ploy’ to manipulate sugar prices

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Workers are loading sugarcane onto a truck along Bais National Highway in Negros Oriental. -- WIKIMEDIA

A MEMBER of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) board blamed the rising retail price of sugar on manipulation by wholesalers and retailers, noting that prices at miller level have been relatively stable.

“We have not been remiss in reminding the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to do their job and monitor retail prices of sugar because at the end of the day, it will be the producers who will be at the receiving end of this problem,” Emilio Bernardino L. Yulo, SRA Board Sugar Producers Representative said in a statement on Sunday.

Consultations with stakeholders over the weekend yielded complaints about high retail prices of sugar of about P60 per kilo.

Roland B. Beltran, another SRA Board miller representative, said mill gate prices of sugar in recent months have been steady at P1,450 to P1,500 per 50-kilo bag, and that warehouses are “full to the brim,” meaning there is little fundamental support for high retail prices.

“When the retail price of sugar goes beyond P60 per kilo that is double the existing mill gate price,” Mr. Beltran said.

Industrial users of sugar have been calling for sugar import liberalization because of high costs, putting the sugar industry on notice that the government might open up the import market using an approach similar to rice tariffication, putting pressure on domestic farmer incomes because of the competition from cheap imports.

The board members are urging the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to look into the matter.

“Unfortunately, the very agency that is tasked to monitor and ensure that this should not happen is not doing its job… I hope DTI will not wait that the price breaches P70 per kilo. In fact, it should not have waited that prices breached the P60 per kilo,” Mr. Yulo said.

Asked to comment, DTI Undersecretary for Consumer Protection Ruth B. Castelo that the government is aware of attempts to manipulate sugar prices.

“White sugar price should be kept within P50-55/kilo and brown sugar should be P40-45/kilo. There is no reason for sugar prices to go up because supply is stable, according to SRA. Yes, some traders and retailers manipulate the price but government knows. DTI issues Letters of Inquiry to retailers who sell at a price higher than what it should be,” she told BusinessWorld in a text message.

Mr. Yulo also said the increase in retail prices may be “another ploy in setting-up a scenario to justify liberalization of sugar importation.”

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Chairman George T. Barcelon, who supports more liberal imports, said the competitiveness of the domestic sugar industry should be tested by competition against efficiently-produced sugar.

“We are encouraging importation of any beverages or food products that have sugar content because they are competitive. Madalas na pinag-uusapan ito [This is most of the time talked about issues] and that’s why we feel that the SRA is not effective anymore. There should be some form [liberalization similar to] Rice Tariffication,” he told BusinessWorld over the phone.

“You should balance it with more lenient importation of lower-cost sugar,” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang