‘Relaxing sugar import policy will hurt local industry’

BACOLOD City – Two officials from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) have aired their concerns regarding the government’s plan to liberalize sugar importation in the country.

SRA Board members Roland Beltran (millers’ representative) and Dino Yulo (planters’ representative) said in a joint statement that relaxing the sugar import policy would result in the mill-site price of sugar dropping, thus adversely affecting sugar workers.

The move – if pushed through – will “heighten the restlessness of sugar producers over the future of the industry” and risk “continued employment of sugar workers,” they added.

Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno last Wednesday said the sugar import policy should be relaxed to curb the rising prices of basic commodities.

“Sugar in the Philippines is very expensive compared with global prices. We plan to deregulate or relax that industry…Our target is within the year,” Diokno said in a breakfast forum in Manila.

Such measure is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s Administrative Order No. 13 issued in September 2018 – when the national inflation rate hit a nine-year high of 6.7 percent.

The order suggests removing non-barrier tariffs and allowing direct importation of goods so that input costs would be cut.

The government already applied this in the rice industry.

“We are very restrictive in terms of agricultural commodities…so the next item will be sugar,” Diokno said.

The current sugar import policy authorizes the SRA to assign “volume allocations” to local traders’ and farmers’ groups.

Diokno said deregulating importation will result in lower sugar prices.

But according to Beltran and Yulo, the farm-gate price of sugar is “not high.”

They added that sugar only becomes expensive when it is sold in retail outlets.

“Domestic raw sugar has gone down from P1,693 per bag in September 2018 to P1,575 per bag as of Jan. 6, 2019,” the SRA officials said, citing their price monitoring reports. “That’s a 6.96-percent drop in roughly three months.”

Beltran and Yulo added that not all retail outlets sell sugar at a high price (from P60 to P64 per kilogram.)

“The prevailing price of refined sugar at the retail level is P50 per kilo. Focus and investigation should be on retail outlets that have kept their prices high when farm-gate prices have gone down already,” they stressed./PN


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