Gov’t to liberalize sugar imports
After moves to remove import restrictions on rice, the government this year plans to also liberalize sugar importation, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said on Wednesday.
In a press conference, Diokno said the next big item among agricultural products whose importation would be further opened up by the Duterte administration was sugar, noting that it is a raw material in a number of potential export products.
“Sugar in the Philippines is very expensive compared to the global rate, so we plan to deregulate or relax [the sector],” Diokno said.
The budget chief said reforms in the sugar industry would be implemented within this year.
For the entire agriculture sector, Diokno said the Duterte administration’s policy was deregulation, including freer importation of food products.
President Duterte last year issued administrative orders aimed at easing food importation, especially of rice, as domestic supply bottlenecks pushed prices higher.
Pending Mr. Duterte’s signature is the rice tariffication bill that will remove the import quota, or quantitative restriction, on the Filipino staple food and replace it with tariff. Congress has transmitted the bill to Malacañang.
Once enacted into law, the rice tariffication bill is expected to slash rice prices by as much as P7 a kilo.
Diokno said the plan to liberalize sugar importation would be coupled with improvements in agricultural production.
“We really have to focus on mechanization. We have to focus on adopting higher quality of seeds [and] on irrigation. We have to show farmers that these things really make a difference,” Diokno said.
The budget chief admitted that so far, “agriculture is the weakest link in this administration’s performance.”
“The fact that it (the agriculture sector) is slow-moving reflects that we are not able to hit our poverty-reduction target,” he said.
The agriculture sector is the source of livelihood for many poor Filipino families.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia last year said that agriculture accounted for almost a third, or 31.5 percent, of the jobs being generated and made available to the labor force.
Diokno, who had also served as budget secretary of former President Joseph Estrada, said “we can actually grow much faster in agriculture, as evidenced by Estrada’s term.”
“If agriculture were to grow by 4 percent, then the economic growth target of 7-8 percent is doable,” he added.
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