By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The country’s sugar production has already reached 1.1 million metric tons (MT) or halfway through the government’s sugar production target for the current crop year, but stakeholders are not too optimistic.
The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has pegged production target at 2.2 million MT for this sugar crop year, but production as of January has already reached 1.1 million MT. The sugar crop year started in September last year and will end in August yet.
But SRA Board Member Emilio Yulo III said the production trend in each region is still quite mixed right now. While Mindanao and Luzon are producing more, Visayas has been producing less.
“We are about mid-way to the milling season,” Yulo said. “It’s now a matter of whether we will continue or maintain the present pace of [production] in regions that have seen increase in output.”
Yulo said the industry will have a clearer picture by this week of how production is going to be for the current crop year, but also added that Negros, one of the biggest sugar producing provinces in the country, is “also a little bit down.”
Cocoy Barrera, Deputy Director for Legal Affairs of the Philippine Sugar Millers Association, Inc., pointed out that the January production of 1.1 million MT is higher than what was produced in the same period last year.
This makes it more uncertain if the country can fulfill its US quota for the crop year. For this year, SRA allotted 95 percent of the country’s estimated sugar output to domestic sugar market or “B” sugar, while five percent will be tapped to meet US Quota Sugar or “A” sugar.
Because of this, the US had set an initial quota of 142,160 MT raw value (MTRV) or 136,201 MT commercial weight (MTCW) of sugar for the Philippines to ship there.
“We will export substantial volume but as to fulfilling the quota, it depends on the production,” Barrera said.
As of January, he said the country already shipped about 136,000 MT of sugar.
During the last crop year, the country produced about 2.1 million MT of sugar, which is lower than the output target of 2.27 million MT and the 2.5 million MT recorded in the previous crop year.
Aside from decline in output, the local sugar industry is threatened by the recent pronouncement of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to liberalize sugar importation.
For instance, Yulo expressed concerns on the country’s source of sugar once the liberalization happens. At present, the Philippines imports most of its additional sugar needs from Thailand.
“Thai sugar being brought to the Philippines is just excess production,” Yulo said.
“Thailand is cutting down its export program because they want to transfer some of their sugar into ethanol. Supposed five years from now, Thailand will say I don’t want to export to you anymore because I’m expanding my ethanol program because I’m going after Brazil. Where do we get our supply?” he added.
A group of businessmen — including members of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Philippine Exporters Confederation (PhilExport), and Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. (PhilFoodex) — have been appealing to the government to allow them to directly import sugar to reduce their expenses.
Philfoodex President Roberto Amores said they should be allowed to directly import as much as 100,000 MT of sugar to “strike a balance” between industries that were affected by the high cost of the commodity.
But Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations, Inc. (CONFED) Spokesperson Raymond Montinola said that household consumers will not directly benefit from liberalized sugar importation unless industrial companies, the largest user of sugar in the country, will be forced to bring down the cost of their end products.
There is no assurance also that the price of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and processed food products with significant sugar content like candies and biscuits will go down once more imported sugar enters the country.