Sugar industry wants SRA to split imports 50-50 between industrial users and consumer market

PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

The sugar industry said the government agency regulating commodities must split sugar imports on a 50-50 basis between industrial users and consumers, in line with its mandate.

“Our suggestion is that (imports) should not be granted only to selected industrial users. The mandate of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) is to regulate supply. At least 50% had to go to industrial users and 50% to domestic users or wet markets so that sugar prices would not rise as high,” said Luzon Federation of Sugar Producers, Inc. President Cornelio V. Toreja during a congressional hearing on Monday.

The hearing was called in response to the unauthorized signing of Sugar Ordinance (SO) No. 4, which the Palace has since clarified did not have the approval of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

The incident led to the resignation of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio S. Sebastian, who last week admitted signing the order on Mr. Marcos’ behalf. On Monday, Roland B. Beltran, a member of the SRA board and representative of the millers, who also signed the order, resigned from the board, citing “health reasons.”

SO No. 4 would have allowed the import of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar.

“We agree that it is necessary to import refined sugar to meet the high domestic supply and stabilize supply. It is not necessary to import raw sugar. Imports should be open to accredited traders proven and the use (of imports) should not be limited to a specific sector,” Toreja added.

Philippine Sugar Millers Association president Pablo L. Lobregat said rising sugar prices would have been averted if a previous sugar order had been fulfilled on time.

“If OS #3 could be done, I don’t think we would have this price hike to astronomical heights. Therefore, SO 4 compensates for the additional needs given that the final sugar figures (which must be produced and stored) are not sufficient,” he said.

SO No. 3 was issued in February and authorized the import of 200,000 metric tons of refined sugar. The import plan was delayed by two separate Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) filed against it.

According to SRA Administrator, Hermenegildo R. Serafica, the TRO issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Sagay City was rejected, while the one filed with the RTC of Himamaylan City remains active .

Serafica added that not all shipments ordered under SO 3 have arrived.

As of August 12, a total of 185,633.0 MT to be imported under SO No. 3 are covered by SRA authorizations and actual arrivals stand at 166,234.90 MT.

“The cases filed blocked imported sugar. The election also (caused) some delay, until finally everyone noticed that (the claims) that there was enough sugar weren’t true. Look what happened to the prices,” Mr. Lobregat said.

“The SRA is supposed to ensure that the supply of sugar is balanced, protect consumers from shortages and ensure that it does not import too much sugar, which is detrimental to producers. The SRA has been in contact with various players in the production sector. We always try to find a supply balance. This year has been a tough year,” he added.

Mr. Lobregat said the problem with SO No. 4 is an administrative or inter-office communication problem, and that the need to import sugar remains.

“If there is a (gap in) process between the SRA, the DA (the Department of Agriculture) and the President as Secretary of the DA, it has nothing to do with procurement or lack of sugar today. SO 4 has been developed in consultation with producers to ensure (sufficient) volumes of imported sugar to bring prices down to acceptable levels,” he added.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Chairman Rosendo O. So said the SRA should inspect warehouses to check supply levels.

“The SRA should call on all groups, even the distribution pipeline, to determine whether there is a shortage or not. Everywhere we go we see sugar. We don’t see a shortage,” he said.

“We also found out that the production shortfall is only 100,000 MT. So why is the SRA (allowing the import of) 300,000 MT?” he added.

United Sugar Growers Federation President Manuel R. Lamata said the adequacy of supply was not reflected in higher prices.

“You go to the wet market or the supermarket, there is sugar, but it’s too expensive. Even we producers complain. Prices are higher than normal due to high fuel and fertilizer prices,” he told BusinessWorld Live on Monday.

“I can’t blame the traders, it’s their job. It’s their business, it’s business. They buy low, they sell high. But it’s a completely different conversation about manipulation on behalf of the government,” he added.

Farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said around 700,000 agricultural workers in sugarcane haciendas and 24,000 workers in sugar mills have been affected by the sugar crisis.

“In Negros, some 310,000 sugar farm workers and 18,000 sugar mill workers are affected by lack of work and livelihoods due to the dead season between planting and harvesting,” known in the industry as name of “dead timethe KMP said in a statement.

“Year after year, sugar farm workers endure hunger and poverty in the off season while unscrupulous officials cannot wait to reap the benefits of sugar imports.”

Former land reform secretary and KMP member Rafael V. Mariano said Congress needs to investigate what is behind the sharp spike in sugar prices.

“We need to know whether there is sugar price manipulation or the ever-increasing cost of sugar production, especially fuel and fertilizer prices, are the main factors driving the price hike. sugar,” he said.

“Congress should also dutifully exercise its oversight capacity and determine that decades of liberalizing and importing have led to the decline and near destruction of domestic agriculture. We need more legislation that will genuinely improve the state of local agriculture and food producers, especially farmers,” he added.

On his official YouTube channel, Mr Marcos said that before issuing another sugar order, previous imports must be consumed.

“We currently have previous imports in our inventory. Before importing, we must first complete this supply. We don’t want to resort to imports. However, if the current supply is not enough, we are forced to import,” he said.

“If we don’t import and there isn’t enough supply, prices will go up. We have to make sure that the quantity we import corresponds to our needs, and no more,” he added.

He mentioned the possibility of imports worth 150,000 metric tons by October.

“It is possible that by October our local supply will be reduced. It may be the time when we import, but not a big volume, not as big as 300,000 MT. About 150,000 tonnes seems sufficient for the whole year,” he added.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry George T. Barcelon supported the revised import plan.

“It’s a welcome development. The new harvest will be around the fourth quarter. This will be a benchmark (to determine if) more imports are needed. Consumption is higher during the holiday season,” he said in a Viber message.

Former presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Jose Ma.A. Concepcion III said in a statement that Mr. Marcos was “correct in his plan” to import a limited amount of sugar and only if the domestic supply ran out.

“The president’s approach will protect both the consumer and the farmer…but a calibrated import of 100,000 to 150,000 tons, as the president predicts, will allow us to see if price levels start to come down, and doing it at a gradual level let’s adapt as harvest season approaches and then adapt again when production is in full swing,” he added. Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

Rachel J. Bradford