Ex-guv: Sugar industry to survive Asean free trade deal

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


FORMER Negros Occidental Governor Rafael Coscolluela said the sugar industry will survive, despite the imposition of low tariff on imported sugar because of the implementation of ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (Afta) by 2015.

In a forum dated July 19, 2012, Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nocci) president Ed Du said Afta will be implemented in 2015.

Du said the Philippines as a signatory of the Afta, in which all imported products that will enter the country have zero tariffs. [Read the article here].

Coscolluela said that the proposed Sugarcane Act will "provide some sort of relief for the sugar industry if we get a Sugar Fund."

“The big question, however is, where will we get the money,” he added.

Coscolluela is the president of Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations (Confed) and former administrator of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

"The sugar industry imposed a 'voluntary' contribution to fund its research and development and Sugar Master Plan, but the Commission on Audit ordered a stop to its collection. Because it is covered by a sugar order so it is a 'public fund,' thus it cannot be released to the private sector," he said.

He said the sugar industry needs to find another way to collect this voluntary contribution.

“We hope that the proposed Sugar Fund will be it,” he said.

"There is some truth to the concern by some stakeholders of the industry that it will have a hard time if the Sugar Bill is not passed by year-end," he added.

Coscolluela said that the country's agriculture is now falling behind its much smaller Asean neighbors in terms of production. He said Philippine agriculture is now behind Vietnam and Myanmar and other much smaller countries.

"Vietnam after many years of war is way ahead of the Philippines where agricultural productivity and output is concerned," Coscolluela said.

He added that "it is because of the lack of preference for the agriculture sector as government has a bias for the consumer by complying with the Afta at the expense of Philippine agriculture."

"It is not a secret that many of our competitor countries have 'hidden' subsidies, protective and non-tariff measures to protect their local products from imports," he said.

The Philippine government prefers to be "a good boy" which opened the country to cheaper competition subsidized by their governments, Coscolluela said.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 26, 2014.

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