By Madelaine B. Miraflor
New Agriculture Secretary William Dar is supportive of the proposal to liberalize the sugar industry, which means opening up the local market to more imported sugar.
Dar said in an interview that he will still study the proposal to liberalize the sugar industry and that he needs to meet with the officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) first before making any decision.
For his part, Roberto Amores, President of the Philippine Food Exporters, Inc. (Philfoodex), said he already mentioned to Dar the request of the food processing industry to be allowed to import more sugar so they could have bigger access to cheaper, imported supply of the sweetener.
“He [Dar] supports it,” Amores said in an interview.
Together with the other officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Dar spoke to reporters on Tuesday for the first time since his appointment as the country’s new Agriculture Secretary. Amores was also in the panel.
Dar said the reason why Amores was there is because he wants to tap him to lead the DA’s Secretary Technical Advisory Group (STAG), a policy oriented organization composed of agriculture stakeholders from the private and public sector.
Aside from Philfoodex, Amores also serves as a director at Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).
Earlier this year, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said there is a need to deregulate sugar importation in order to address the rising cost of the commodity. This was backed by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, saying that it was a “collegial stand” among the country’s economic managers to push for the liberalization of sugar importation.
This was being opposed by the country’s sugar planters and millers as well as some members of the SRA Board namely Roland Beltran and Emilio Yulo.
According to Beltran and Yulo, the high cost of sugar could be a result of price manipulation among traders and retailers.
A few months ago, they even asked the Senate to look into the rising retail price of sugar despite a relatively low millsite price in the provinces.
In a letter to Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, the SRA Board Members requested a senate inquiry on the prices of sugar as well as Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) supposed failure to exercise its mandate to protect the consumers from the rising cost of the commodity at the retail level.
“Time and again, we have asked the Department of Trade and Industry to look into possible violations, exercise its mandate and ensure that consumers are protected as well to maintain the viability of the sugar industry,” the letter, signed by SRA Board Members Roland Beltran and Emilio Yulo, wrote.
“However, instead of looking into these concerns and identifying the underlying reasons for the high prices of sugar, the DTI has in fact been one in calling for the liberalization of the sugar industry without first conducting an investigation on these allegations,” it added.
In one of SRA’s earlier consultation with stakeholders, the agency has received complaints of high retail prices of sugar.
Based on reports, sugar is retailing at P60.00 per kilo or double the price at which the farmers are paid at millgate. SRA noted that millsite price of rice has been steady at P1,450 to P1,500 per 50 kilo-bag.
Former Negros Occidental Second District Board Member Salvador Escalante pointed out earlier that a retail price of P60 a kilo for sugar means the millsite price has to be around P3,000 per 50-kilo bag.