Food processors urge immediate sugar imports

By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

The Philippine food producers and manufacturers strongly urged government to address the growing concern on the prohibitive cost of domestic sugar by deregulating the industry and allowing the open importation of the commodity.

“Our domestics processors comprised mostly of small entrepreneurs are really hurting from ASEAN competition. The high cost of sugar in the local market is killing the local industry but favoring foreign competition,” Roberto C. Amores, President of the Philippine Food Exporters, Inc (Philfoodex) said in a statement.

Amores said that Philippine confectionery products cannot compete in ASEAN mainly due to the prohibitive cost of sugar, which is an important ingredient in food processing. He cited that Thailand’s refined sugar in the retail market is only P31-34/kilo or 19.00-21.00 baht compared to P60-65 per kilo in the Philippines.

Earlier, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the largest business organization in the country, welcomed the government pronouncement to open up sugar importation to make the industry more competitive.

This came as a result of the advocacies initiated in 2018 by the Philfoodex, PCCI and the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT). The umbrella organizations formalized their repeated appeal to the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to allow domestic food processors and manufacturers to import sufficient quantity of sugar for domestic food processors to make them more competitive and sustainable.

Amores said that deregulating sugar industry would be beneficial to all stakeholders, including processors, farmers and consumers. “We are glad that our government is listening to our concerns because this has become a burden on our part. We absolutely cannot compete with similar products from ASEAN because our sugar is relatively too expensive,” he said.

Former President and now Speaker of the House Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the Executive Order 892 “modifying the rates of import duty on sugar under the Tariff and Customs Code of 1978, as amended in order to implement tariff reduction schedule on sugar products through the invocation of the protocol to provide special consideration for rice and sugar under the Common Effective Preferential Tariff Scheme for the ASEAN Free Trade Area (CEPT-AFTA)/ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA).” This protocol calls for the gradual reduction of sugar from 35 percent in 2010 to now 5 percent.

Former Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary and now Bangko Sentral Governor Benjamin Diokno has earlier announced that the government direction is now geared towards liberalizing the agriculture sector through freer importation following the enactment into law of the Rice Tariffication Bill.