DA, SRA urged to take firm stand vs sugar import liberalization
The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) were both slammed by a lawmaker for their “deafening silence” amid the Department of Finance’s (DOF) renewed proposal to liberalize sugar imports.
In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Senator Miguel Zubiri said the agencies should come out with a strong statement opposing the new policy that could “kill our farm workers and producers.”
The DOF released an economic bulletin last week that formally proposed the deregulation and tariffication of the sugar industry, akin to the model now being implemented on rice.
This would remove the limit on the volume of imported sugar that could enter the domestic market, which economic managers said could dramatically bring down sugar prices. The elevated price of sugar, they believed, penalized consumers and deterred the growth of downstream industries.
“There is this deafening silence from DA and SRA on the sugar liberalization. Everybody has spoken … We cannot be business as usual in our dealings … I’m appealing to the DA and the SRA to come out strongly together to say ‘no, we don’t need to liberalize importation. We have enough and if we don’t, we’ll come up with a policy but we’ll support the local industry,’” Zubiri said.
“Mr. Secretary [William Dar], there will be a strong lobby from traders to push importation and exportation. When I say lobby, you know what I’m talking about. We have to be objective about this … We have to recalibrate our position,” he added.
Zubiri said producer and miller groups had immediately expressed their opposition to the move, while some lawmakers were already crafting a resolution to support the dissent.
Earlier this year, Senators Zubiri, Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, Koko Pimentel and Joel Villanueva have signed a resolution asking Malacañang to drop the plan.
Despite Zubiri’s appeal, Dar refused to categorically oppose liberalization. Instead, he said he had tasked the SRA to come up with a position paper to “outline exactly what are the pros and cons so that the [sugar] board could liberate on this.”
SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica, for his part, said the SRA would tackle the issue “with the guidance of Secretary Dar.”
Sugar board member Emilio Yulo said in a message to the Inquirer that he and board member Roland Beltran, “are strongly against liberalization,” but the administrator did not want to take a stand.
“We asked him if he is willing to issue a statement against liberalization and he declined,” he said.
Nonetheless, Serafica said in an ambush interview that he personally opposed the liberalization, noting that the industry had yet to reap the benefits of the sugar industry development act that was implemented in 2016.
Last year, the SRA has approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons of sugar in August and another 150,000 MT in October to meet the increasing demand for the commodity.
For the coming crop year, the SRA is expecting a slight uptick in production after it projected local output to hit 2.1 million MT from 2.07 million MT in the last crop year, which began in September and ended in August this year.
Zubiri said the government must support the local industry by providing it with enough assistance, adding that lower prices in other sugar-producing countries such as Thailand was made possible by heavy subsidies and other government interventions, which Filipino sugar farmers do not have access to.
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