CALLING all Don Bosco – Victorias alumni, past pupils, former teachers and staff! Balik kita sa Don Bosco! On February 6, Saturday, we will have our general alumni homecoming hosted by Batch ’85.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

Registration starts at 8 a.m. followed by Thanksgiving Mass at 9:30 a.m. The mass will be officiated by no less than a cardinal – by our batchmate Fr. Cyril Cardinal, SDB! Come and reminisce our high school days with classmates and schoolmates. See you there!

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January 28 Bid Results: Vicmico B=P1,990; HPCo A=P1,793.58, B= P1,950 & molasses=P8,888.88; Biscom A=P 1,797.88, B=P1,940 & molasses=P9,188.89; Bais A=P1,800 & B=P1,942.60; Passi A=P1,810.15 & B=P1,990; Casa A=P1,810.15 & B= 2,020.58.

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Aside from the very encouraging sugar prices, sugar producers have another reason to celebrate. Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano announced last week that Thailand has finally agreed to the country’s request for deferment of tariff reduction on sugar.

Under the Asean Free Trade Area – Common Effective Preferential Tariff agreement, the tariff on sugar should have been reduced to 28 percent in 2009 and decreased further to a nominal 0 percent – 5 percent this year. However, due to strong urging from sugar industry leaders, the country requested for the deferment of tariff reduction on sugar.

Thailand, being the only net sugar exporter among Asean nations, initially objected. Ultimately, it agreed for a gradual tariff reduction. This year up to next year, the 38 percent tariff will still hold but it will be reduced to 28 percent in 2012, 18 percent in 2013, 10 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015.

It’s comforting to know that the tariff protection is still there but it does not make much difference now since government itself is waiving the tariff on its planned sugar importation. This week, government plans to conduct bidding for the importation.

According to DA Sec. Arthur Yap, they are just finalizing the bidding dates for the planned 150,000 metric tons importation which will be handled by the private sector.

SRA head Lito Coscolluela disclosed that half of the volume of the importation will be allocated to industrial consumers like softdrink manufacturers, 20 percent will go to institutional users like restaurants and bakeries, another 20 percent for retail and the remaining 10 percent will be for food processors.

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World sugar prices remain high. Last Friday, raw sugar futures for March delivery rose US$ 29.9 cents a pound (P1,532 per 50-kilo bag @ P46.6/$) in New York’s Intercontinental Exchange. Earlier, it reached 30.33 cents (P1,555 per bag), the highest for a most-active contract since January 1981.

As mentioned in earlier columns, the Philippine announcement that it will import sugar will not help cool world prices.

According to Sao Paolo-based Rabobank analyst Andy Duff, “The past few days have seen purchasing from Indonesia and continuing interest from a variety of other players including Egypt, the Philippines and Pakistan. With a number of importing countries running stocks down to a minimum, the stage is set for a very tight and nervous few months,” he cautioned.

Narendra Murkumbi, managing director of India’s largest refiner and importer Shree Renuka, forecasts a third consecutive year of sugar deficit for the next crop year. Even after Brazil starts harvest on March, commodities experts believe prices might still spike because of lower production in the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Thailand.

Global production may trail demand by 5 million metric tons in the year beginning Oct. 1, compared with a surplus of 500,000 tons forecast by the International Sugar Organization, Murkimbi stated. The deficit, according to him, will keep prices firm.

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There’s a growing row between European Union countries and Brazil on the issue of additional sugar exports from the EU.

EU’s agriculture sector, specially its sugar industry, is highly subsidized. The EU dumps its sugar in the world market at prices below production cost. This drew the ire of developing nations, including the Philippines, which petitioned the World Trade Organization to limit the sugar exports of the EU to only 1.37 million metric tons.

The International Confederation of European Beet Growers asked the EU to export 500,000 mt beyond its WTO cap, citing their bumper harvest for this year and the prevailing favorable price in the world market. They contend that this is “the right proposal at the right time” to ease the worldwide shortage.

EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel justified the proposal, citing the "exceptional" situation in the sugar market which has been squeezed by disappointing crops in both Brazil and second-ranked producer India.

UNICA, the Brazilian Sugar Industry Association, slammed the move as “short-sighted” and “sending the wrong signals” to EU sugar beet growers who are now planning for their next crop. If the proposal is approved, it might encourage EU growers to produce more, dump the surplus to the world market, and thus bring down prices.

Brazil insisted that the EU should submit its plan for approval by the WTO sugar panel members composed of Brazil, Australia and Thailand. Now, that’s something the EU is not very eager to do. Let’s wait and see what develops!

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)