Ex-senator vows to lobby vs free trade agreement-A A +A
Monday, August 6, 2012
FORMER senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said he will lobby for the postponement of the implementation of the zero tariff on sugar under the Asean Free Trade Agreement (Afta) in 2015.
Zubiri, who was guest speaker of the Planters Association of Southern Negros (Pason) during its general assembly Saturday, pointed out that by year 2015, the sugar industry in the country would be facing several problems as it would have to open up to international suppliers of sugar under the Afta.
"By that time, there will be no tariffs to protect our farmers from cheap imported sugar from countries like Thailand and Australia. How can we compete when their countries subsidize their sugar production by giving cheap fertilizers, mechanized equipment, low interest rates on agri loans at only six percent that is readily available?" Zubiri said.
He said that for now, he does not see major steps made by the government to address the problem in the sugar industry and that there is no clear-cut move to help the sugar farmers.
He cited that in the country, to date, the equipment is expensive, fertilizers are expensive and that “we also have high interest rates for agri loans from 11 to 12 percent.”
This is why Zubiri stressed that all the stakeholders in the sugar industry should unite and ask the government to extend assistance through programs in which the sugar farmers can avail themselves of cheap equipment such as tractors, mechanized planters and other important implements.
He also cited the need for programs for the tax-free importation of fertilizers and other farm inputs to help bring down the cost of production, provision of credits through the Land Bank or other government agencies at very low interest rates with easy lending schemes and with matching crop insurance package for possible failure of crop.
Zubiri encouraged stakeholders in the sugar industry to look for alternative markets for the sugar production, citing the promotion of bio- fuels.
He authored the biofuels law in 2006 so that sugarcane will have an alternative use. He said he envisioned Negros as the Brazil of Asia through his bill.
If the price of sugar is cheap, then the farmers would shift to ethanol production, said Zubiri.
The former senator also pushed for the promotion of the biomass energy production under the Renewable Energy Law, which he also authored.
"Negros can produce as much as 1,000 megawatts of electricity through the use of bagasse and cane trash," the former senator added.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 06, 2012.