DESPITE howling oppositions to the planned importation of sugar by the National Government, the country still to import 60,000 metric tons of sugar "which are coming soon from the off-world market," an official said.

Sugar Regulatory Administrator Rafael Coscolluela said it will be up for the traders and suppliers as to where they will get their supply.

For updates from around the country, follow Sun.Star on Twitter

"The ball now is in the hands of the NFA (National Food Authority)," he said.

He noted the NFA has already drafted mechanics or guidelines with regard the sugar stocks release.

Also Coscolluela said the NFA would still be dependent on the Department of Agriculture's signal when to release the stocks.

"NFA has yet to receive a clearance from DA before any releases can be done," Coscolluela said.

Negros Occidental third district Congressman Jose Carlos "Kako" Lacson Monday said he is against sugar importation in all sorts. "Because I always believe that importation would subsidize the foreign farmers."

"But in fairness to the government, it's natural that they should try to keep the prices low. However, there are many ways to do it like in the form of taxes. Give planters the chance. We don't know next year prices of sugar may be low," Lacson appealed.

Because of high price of sugar, products also increase from eight to nine percent.

Also on Monday, former agriculture secretary now Sorsogon Representative Salvador Escudero, pronounced "that is how prices depress in the Filipino mind. For as long as the word speculation is in our dictionary, the prices will be unstable. A mere rumor in this country that certain commodities will be short triggers already an escalation of price. And if that rumor is strengthened by escalation or price then..."

But he said however that the basic problem of sugar is the law of supply and demand.

"The high price of sugar reflects the market situation. It's little tighter because of our supply. I understand that the production last year was a bit low mainly because of climate and the sugar industry used less inputs," he said.

Also a factor in the high price is that sugar in the country is primarily produced in island provinces, making transportation a bit more difficult, according to Escudero.

"Because that's one problem we can not lick, the very high cost of domestic transport whether for commodities or for human beings - not very high cost but a lot of tragedies," he said.

He added that the cost of transporting commodities domestically is even more expensive than the cost of shipping it to other countries.

Harm than good

"Sugar importation will do more harm than good not only for the sugar industry but for the country as a whole. It will discourage sugar farmers from investing in their farms and producing more sugar. The country will eventually end up being dependent on sugar imports in the same manner that we have become dependent on rice imports." said Jose Mari Miranda, president of the Cebu-based Bogo-Medellin Planters Association on government's move to import sugar.

Miranda explained that high sugar prices are dictated by market forces and are directly caused by the global deficit.

If domestic prices will not rise with world market prices, the situation will lead to reverse smuggling where people will smuggle sugar out of the country to sell it at the more lucrative world market.

"Reverse smuggling will result to scarcity in domestic supply. This will consequently result to higher domestic prices. Prices of sugar and of all commodities simply follow the law of supply and demand," Miranda said.

Miranda disclosed that, if prices did not become favorable this year, the sugar industry might not have survived.

"There might be no more sugar industry to speak of next year. After suffering from low sugar prices and very high cost of farm inputs in the past several years, producers would quit sugar farming if prices did not improve this year."

Importation will discourage farmers to invest in their farms, modernize their equipment and produce more sugar, stressed Miranda.

No producer will risk his money and efforts in sugar farming if government will readily import subsidized sugar when prices become favorable to farmers, she said.

This will result to a contraction of domestic production and will make the country reliant on imports.

Miranda, who has been very active and vocal in the fight against sugar smuggling, interprets the sudden increase in domestic demand as additional proof that smuggled sugar regularly enters the country.

However, he explained that supply from that illegal trade has dried up because high world prices make smuggling unprofitable.

"In the past decade, domestic demand has been relatively flat at around 1.9 million metric tons. Now that high world prices have prevented sugar smuggling, how come estimated domestic demand has suddenly escalated to about 2.3 million metric tons practically overnight?" Miranda asked.

"I have said time and again that sugar smuggling was driving down domestic prices. Numerous apprehensions have been made and several cases filed but no smuggler has been convicted nor jailed for the harm they have been doing to the sugar farmers," he lamented.

Government should protect its agricultural producers, Miranda stressed. It should fight smuggling. It should refrain from interfering with free enterprise. It should let market forces determine sugar prices.

He added that government should support not only the sugar industry but the entire agriculture sector. It should provide incentives such as infrastructure support, irrigation systems, access to cheaper farm inputs and financing for modernization and improved production.

"Otherwise, we will lose our food security and we will be at the mercy of other countries," Miranda warned. (With Butch Bacaoco)