450,000 MT of sugar eyed for importation

January 19, 2023
Philippine Star | https://bit.ly/3wrfuTd

ines — The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has proposed to import 450,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar this year following the instruction of President Marcos to bring down retail prices of the sweetener.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary and deputy spokesperson Rex Estoperez said the SRA is finalizing an import plan as directed by the President.

“The President vowed to maintain a two-month buffer stock of sugar to prevent prices from fluctuating in the market,” Estoperez said.

The SRA is currently drafting a sugar import plan, said Pablo Luis Azcona, SRA board member and planters’ representative said.

“We made a draft for the importation plan. As a standard practice, this draft is sent to all stakeholders and the DA for comments. So far, the volume is swinging from 400,000 MT to 450,000 MT,” he said, referring to the Department of Agriculture.

The proposed volume will cover a two-month buffer stock of sugar at the end of the milling season.

Based on the instruction of the DA and Malacañang, the imported sugar should arrive as soon as possible to bring retail prices down immediately.

“Maybe first quarter or April, depending on the delays in the shipping. The first arrival is for immediate disposal. That’s what the President wants because he really wants to lower the retail price,” Azcona said.

He clarified that the total proposed volume would not arrive all at the same time.

“We are at the peak of milling. The critical job of the SRA is to determine how much volume will be introduced to the local market and when,” Azcona said. “If the imported sugar is released for the retail market, hopefully the farmers will not be too affected.”

“A majority of our sugar consumption is industrial… 60 percent of the farmers’ harvests are bought by the industrial sector. If you give the industrial at the wrong time, farmers will suffer,” Azcona said.

The SRA arrived at the recommended amount based on the data and recommendation of the sugar industry.

“We all based that on data from the SRA surveys. We survey the stock on hand, the sugarcane farms on standing sugarcane crop… Then we can estimate from now until end of milling the projection of sugar that can be produced,” Azcona said.

Earlier this month, soft drinks manufacturers asked Marcos “to put in place a supplemental importation program in the first quarter of 2023” to prevent another sugar crisis and stabilize prices.

The Confederation of Sugar Producers Association Inc. (Confed) and the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) said they recognized that there is a projected shortage in domestic sugar production versus consumption at the onset of the milling season.

However, the sugar industry urged the SRA to provide safeguards to ensure that the volume and arrival of the buffer stock will be calibrated so as not to depress domestic millgate prices.

Mostly refined sugar

On the breakdown of the importation program, most of the sugar to be imported will be refined and the inclusion of raw is under discussion.

“As a standard in the Philippines, we usually import refined. The main reason is, refineries in the country, at this moment, do not run during off-peak season,” Azcona said.

“(But) refiners’ groups are requesting to import raw sugar later this year so they can start the refineries early,” he said.

According to refiners, including raw sugar in the importation program will allow refineries to operate and supply white sugar earlier than their August schedule.

This year’s importation program is targeted to benefit all sectors.

Sugar council

The NFSP, Confed and Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers – which make up 50 percent of the country’s domestic sugar production – established a sugar producers coalition called the Sugar Council.

The council will serve as a venue where sugar producers, with the participation of other concerned stakeholders, may discuss issues and craft recommendations for submission to policymakers and legislators that advance, promote and secure the continued viability of the sugar industry.

The group recognizes that a united sugar industry is crucial in protecting, promoting and advancing the interest and welfare of sugar producers through regular and consistent engagement with the government, specifically Congress and the SRA.

Earlier, the three sugar federations supported Sugar Order 4 (SO4), which sought to import 300,000 MT of sugar.

Although some sectors assailed the signatories of the SO4, the federations stood by Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr., the then planters’ representative to the SRA board, which signed the order.

The propriety of the issuance of the SO4 was upheld by the Office of the President and Valderrama and the other signatories were exonerated.

Present calls for importation by industrial users and other sectors manifest the necessity for the volume of importation as stipulated in the SO4.

The three federations opposed proposals to amend SRA’s executive order 18 and defended the regulatory body from calls for its abolition.

They opposed the proposed sugar importation at the peak of milling season, noting it would depress sugar prices and put sugar farmers at a disadvantage. Together with the Philippine Sugar Millers Association, which represent a majority of the sugar millers in the country, the federations submitted last week a joint proposal to amend the Sugarcane Industry Development Act and increase its annual allocation from P2 billion to P5 billion, to improve farm productivity and boost mill efficiency.

Earlier this week, the federations urged the SRA to show them the production and demand figures as well as the volume and schedule of arrival of the proposed importation, which can justify the request by soft drink manufacturers to import sugar. – Gilbert Bayoran