Farmers call for consultative sugar importation plan

BACOLOD. This sugar worker in Negros Occidental is among those thousands in the country feared to be affected tremendously if the plan to liberalize sugar importation pushes through. (Jonah Mae Santander)
BACOLOD. This sugar worker in Negros Occidental is among those thousands in the country feared to be affected tremendously if the plan to liberalize sugar importation pushes through. (Jonah Mae Santander)

If sugar importation is the last resort to fill the production shortage that may be caused by El Niño, the Sugar Council emphasizes the need for a logical, transparent, and consultative importation program.

This was in response to the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s recent statement suggesting importation as a solution to the shortage.

The Sugar Council, an alliance of three federations, namely the Confederation of Sugar Producers Association (Confed), the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP), and Panayfed, did not outright dismiss SRA’s suggestion to import sugar.

But in a letter to Agriculture Sec. Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr., the Sugar Council, urged, “The determination of an import program shall be based on SRA’s timely analysis of market conditions, in consultation with industry stakeholders, prior to the start of the new milling season.”

The Sugar Council’s urging came with cautious projections, submitting that, unless the coming months see a spike in withdrawals, the country might not need to import raw or refined sugar until the first quarter of 2025.

As conservative projections go, this may, of course, change, needing importation sooner. And if that is the opinion of the SRA, then the Sugar Council would be interested in looking at the SRA’s projections.

Whatever the case may be, in the spirit of transparency and fairness, an importation plan decided in consultation with industry stakeholders, and based on a timely analysis of market conditions, is strongly recommended, the statement issued on Sunday, May 19, said.

If imported sugar is allowed to enter the domestic market before it is actually needed, it could cause the millgate price of local sugar to drop. And with local production predicted to be low in CY 2024-2025, sugar farmers are in for a double whammy, the statement also said.

It will be recalled that, at the start of the last milling season in September 2023, SRA predicted the millgate price to be P3,000/bag, which barely happened. The Sugar Council argued that over-importation was the cause, and that a repeat could irreversibly damage the sugar industry, it also said.

Moreover, on April 18, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., through Executive Sec. Lucas Bersamin, issued Administrative Order No. 20. The AO mandated the Department of Agriculture to streamline import procedures and policies by removing non-tariff barriers, the statement said.

Many were worried that the AO could make it a lot easier to bring in imported agricultural products, sugar included, which would compete with and displace demand for local agricultural products, it said.

The Sugar Council immediately sent a letter to Executive Sec. Bersamin, emphasizing the need for safety nets to be put in place to protect sugar farmers. Likewise, the Sugar Council submitted to Sec. Tiu Laurel's recommendations for implementing the guidelines of the AO.

The Sugar Council maintains that, while importing sugar can stabilize the retail market in the face of insufficient local production, it has to be a solution of last resort, done in consultation with stakeholders, especially sugar farmers, and its schedule and volume calibrated to avoid the milling season. (PR)

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