Threat of import liberalization alarms sugar farmers

BACOLOD. The Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. proposes measures to address the challenges hounding the sugar industry including the threats of import liberalization. (Photo from Elmeer Meynard Calimpos)
BACOLOD. The Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. proposes measures to address the challenges hounding the sugar industry including the threats of import liberalization. (Photo from Elmeer Meynard Calimpos)

The recent directive issued by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. threatens to flood the country with excessive volumes of food imports, the Sugar Council said.

Issued last April 18 with immediate effect, Administrative Order No. 20 enjoined government agencies to remove non-tariff barriers to make it easier to import agricultural products.

Among these agencies are the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture, particularly its attached agencies, the National Food Authority and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

While agreeing with the need to reduce red tape and further streamline importation procedures to help stabilize prices of basic necessities, the Sugar Council warned that, without “appropriate safety nets and effective competitiveness enhancement measures,” AO No. 20 cannot “ensure food security, maintain sufficient supply of agricultural products in the domestic market, and improve local production.”

The Sugar Council is an alliance of three sugar farmer federations that, together, account for 67 percent of the country’s affiliated sugar production.

In a position paper addressed to Marcos, the Sugar Council expressed concern that removing non-tariff barriers will result in import liberalization, leading to the death of local agricultural production at a time when most countries in the world are experiencing food supply shortages.

The removal of the SRA’s existing importation rules and regulations, including its say on relevant fees and charges, would constitute a loss of the SRA's regulatory authority and revenues. This will undermine the agency’s wherewithal to fund programs that directly help sugarcane farmers.

In effect, the Sugar Council fears AO No. 20 could undercut the ability of the SRA to deliver on its mandate under Executive Order No. 18, Series of 1986, which is “to establish and maintain such balanced relation between production and requirement of sugar and such marketing conditions as will ensure stabilized prices at a level reasonably profitable to the producers and fair to consumers.”

The Sugar Council thus urged government to follow through with an Administrative Order that will lay down the necessary safety nets to make the sugar industry and the entire Philippine agriculture competitive.

The Sugar Council reiterated its call for a Sugar Importation Program “anchored on the principles of transparency, inclusiveness, and timely and accurate data analysis in order to be properly calibrated in terms of volume and timing.*

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