NEDA wants to ‘look at’ sugar liberalization

Published August 10, 2022, 2:31 PM

by Chino S. Leyco

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) may consider the possibility of pursuing a sugar trade liberalization reform to improve the industry’s competitiveness.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the government needs to “look at closely” the sugar liberalization issues and strike a balance between farmers and manufacturers dependent on the commodity.

“It is a balancing act. On the one hand, you keep and maintain employment in the sugar industry. On the other hand, there are employment opportunities that you are foregoing as a result of not having a competitively priced and affordable sugar that’s input to our industries,” Balisacan told reporters.

During former President Duterte’s term, his economic managers attempted but failed to liberalize the sugar sector.

Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia had said that opening up the sugar sector will lower the commodity’s prices in the local market.

Balisacan admitted that the plan is easier said than done.

Unlike the rice liberalization law, he explained that the sugar sector is “more complicated.”

“We have to define your objective. What’s the objective in terms of the support to the sugar industry? If the objective is to give them support so that they have the time to adjust into a more dynamic [and] competitive environment, then, we should do that,” Balisacan said.

“But again you have to balance that with your other objectives, right? For me, it’s all about net gain. It’s not a zero sum game,” he added.

Balisacan believes the current system protects the sugar industry but at the expense of manufacturers dependent on sugar.

“You know it has not been ready [for liberalization] since the 1970, but we really need to start looking at the issue,” the NEDA chief said.

“We need to improve our competitiveness. We need to get our manufacturing [to] take off, and food processing is a big part of our manufacturing, and sugar is a very important input there,” Balisacan explained.

Asked if the issue on sugar liberalization was ever discussed during the past Cabinet or economic cluster’s meetings, Balisacan said “no, this has not.”

Based on a recent study titled, “An Assessment of Reform Directions for the Philippine Sugar Industry,” conducted by Brain Trust Inc. and commissioned by the NEDA, it found that sugar liberalization will favor the rich more than the poor.