THE Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) is skirting the issue on the cause of low sugar demand, an agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) group said in a press statement Tuesday, April 9.
“Either SRA has no clue about what is happening or SRA is just feigning ignorance and deliberately misleading the sugar farmers on the issue of slow sugar withdrawals,” said Aaron Sorbito, chairman of the ARBs Sugar Farmers Federation – Kilusang Pagbabago.
This was Sorbito’s reaction to the statement made last Monday, April 8, by SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, that it is irrational for sugar prices to go up because the “sugar stock balance is at an all-time high of over 1.1 million metric tons, that is 143% of last year’s stock balance during the same period.”
In the same press statement, Serafica confirmed that the warehouses of the mills are overflowing with sugar and that people “who are spreading rumors of sugar prices increasing are trying to manipulate the market so they can increase their profits at the expense of the consumers and producers.”
“Sugar stocks are at an all-time high because of slow domestic withdrawals. Raw sugar withdrawals dropped 3.57% while refined sugar withdrawals dropped almost 36% as of March 3, compared to last crop year. SRA conveniently sidestepped the cause of the drop in domestic withdrawals, which caused the drop in average sugar prices from almost P1,700 per bag last September to only P1,455 last March,” Sorbito pointed out.
Sorbito reiterated his statement last Friday, April 5, that the drastic drop in demand for domestic sugar and the corresponding decrease in sugar prices are directly attributable to Administrative Order (AO) No. 13, which allowed the direct importation of sugar by sugar-using industries.
“The summer heat, coupled with the election campaign season, should have increased the demand for sugar-sweetened beverages and for domestic sugar. Why are domestic sugar withdrawals still slow? Why are sugar prices ‘on the low side compared to sugar prices for the past five years,’ in the words of SRA itself?” he asked.
The demand is there, but it is not the domestic sugar which is supplying the demand, according to Sorbito.
Citing SRA records, he disclosed that refined sugar withdrawals as of March 3 appeared to be higher at about 595,000 metric tons (MT), compared to 539,142 MT for the same period last crop year. However, out of the about 595,000 MT refined sugar withdrawals as of March 3, only 347,000 MT came from domestic stocks while about 248,000 MT came from imports.
“And here comes SRA revealing that 133,500 MT of imported sugar have not yet been withdrawn from warehouses. In other words, SRA has allowed the importation of about 381,500 MT of sugar,” he added.
“Our marginal sugar farmers are already feeling the crunch of AO No. 13. Sugar prices have significantly dropped. Compared to sugar liberalization which is just a proposal as of now, AO No. 13 poses a clear and present danger to the sugar industry,” Sorbito stressed.
“Worse, we did not hear anything about this AO from SRA. Has SRA informed the sugar producers about AO No. 13? What has SRA done to protect sugar producers from the ill-effects of this AO?” he further asked.
“Our ARB federation and our allied sugar workers organizations reiterate our demand for the recall of AO No. 13. We also call on other industry stakeholders to unite and join us in pushing for the repeal of this anti-farmer and anti-farmworker administrative order which will cause the demise of the industry,” Sorbito said.