House resolution passed to block proposal to liberalize sugar imports

Published January 27, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin


Two House resolutions were passed by the House Committee on Agriculture and Food to block the proposal to liberalize sugar importation, and the local sugar producers are cheering.

In a statement, some sugar groups celebrated the recent passage of House Resolutions (HR)No. 412 and No. 439 opposing the proposed liberalization of sugar importation by the economic managers, which came after Senate’s move to unanimously oppose such proposal.

It is another victory for their industry, they said.

National Federation of Sugar Planters (NFSP) President Enrique Rojas said the resolutions passed by both Houses of the Congress “should send a strong message to our economic managers to cease their call for liberalization.”

The passage of the House resolutions came at the heels of an inquiry sought by sugar industry leaders after the Department of Finance (DOF) announced that they are mulling the possibility of allowing industrial users and food manufacturers to directly import sugar based on allegations that local prices of sugar have become prohibitive.

This claim though was disputed by industry leaders that submitted papers on millgate prices of sugar.

Tatak Kalamay Convenor David Alba said their association has been selling locally produced sugar to their members at only ₱34 per kilo.

As a response, Bukidnon Representative Manuel Zubiri to recommend “connecting farmers straight to consumers to cut the middlemen” and bring retail prices of sugar down.

Former Negros Occidental Board Member Gary Acuña of Tatak Kalamay also said that they believe that “these calls to liberalize importation are due to industrial users.”

“We appeal particularly to the bottling companies to moderate your profit,” Acuña said.

Meanwhile, Manuel Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers’ Federation, said that they welcome the move of senate to conduct an inquiry on the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s (SRA) management of the ₱2-billion Sugar Industry Development Act budget.

Earlier this month, SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica supposedly agreed with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez that domestic food processors and other end-users should be allowed to import sugar if the price of locally produced sugar could not match the ₱1,900-per kilo bag of imported sugar. This resulted to further dispute between Serafica and two SRA Board members.

In a joint statement, SRA Board Members Emilio Yulo and Roland Beltran issued a “disclaimer” with regards to this “supposed” agreement.

“Arriving at a benchmark price without consultation with stakeholders is disastrous and Administrator Serafica must not attribute such agreement to SRA as we have not been consulted about the matter, much less our constituency that has been questioning the recent statements and or agreements made by Secretary Lopez in that meeting with Administrator Serafica and domestic food processors,” Yulo and Beltran said.

Chaired by Agriculture Secretary William Dar, SRA Board is composed of four members, including Serafica, Yulo, and Beltran. Yulo is representing the sugar planters in the board, while Beltran is representing the millers.

Yulo and Beltran said that Serafica must clarify to the sugar industry that such agreement with Lopez in principle “is his own personal position and not that of the industry that was not privy to such decisions”.

For his part, Confederation of Sugar Producers (CONFED) Spokesperson Raymond Montinola said he couldn’t understand why the burden to reduce prices is pressed over the shoulder of the sugar farmers when records show that farm gate prices are only pegged at “₱30.00 per kilo for brown sugar or ₱1,500 per 50-kilogram bag.”

According to Lopez, local food processors sometimes pay “₱2,500 or ₱3,000” per 50-kilogram bag.

“Prices should be reduced at the retail market and not against the lowly sugar farmer,” Montinola said, adding that there is no need to import since there has been already an importation of 250,000 metric tons of refined sugar that should have stabilized sugar prices.