THE members of the Save-Sugar Industry Movement (Save-Sim) expressed its opposition to the government’s plan to import 450,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar this year.

Wennie Sancho, lead convenor of Save-Sim, said Friday, January 27, that the importation of about 450,000 MT of sugar had sent chills down the spine of the stakeholders in the sugar industry.

He said it will not only deregulate the sugar industry, but it will also remove quantitative restrictions and protection of sugar under the terms of the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (Atiga).

“Though the sugar industry managed to survive the crisis in the 1980s, it has not fully recovered, it is still in shambles because of the competition from sugar imports, smuggled sugar, and sugar substitutes. Sugar importation is an alternative that would condemn the small farmers, and farm and mill workers to economic extinction. It will condemn to economic bankruptcy the sugar Industries 84,000 planters and the employment and livelihood loss of its 700,000 agricultural workers, 26,000 mill workers and some 2 million downstream dependents,” he added.

Sancho along with its members also submitted their position paper Friday to the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

He noted that most of the small farmers in the industry are agrarian reform beneficiaries who soldiered on planting sugar without government support.

“Thrusting them to slug it out with imported sugar in the domestic market without protection under a regime of sugar import liberalization will only add cruelty to government neglect. If the government will proceed with the full liberalization of the sugar industry, sugar farm workers will have their "tiempos muertos" not only for three months but for a lifetime,” Sancho said.

He said, “we stand behind the farm workers, mill workers and small planters in the sugar industry in opposing the plan to import 450,000 metric tons of sugar.”

He added it is not correct to compare local sugar prices with world market prices because the world sugar market is where major sugar importing countries such as Thailand and India sell their excess sugar at below the cost of production.

“While we recognize the need for imports and a sugar buffer stock, we should know the actual and projected production and consumption figures for this crop year. We should not be like blinds groping in the dark as to the actual volume of imported sugar which we need for domestic consumption,” Sancho said.

He said sugar imports should be calibrated in volume and timed to arrive after the close of the milling so that it does not depress milling prices that would be grossly disadvantageous to the sugarcane farmers.

He added the Department of Agriculture needs to consult with planters and millers before proceeding with imports.