Order out for 440,000-MT sugar imports

February 16, 2023
The Philippine Star| https://bit.ly/3YIInXJ

MANILA, Philippines — The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has issued Sugar Order No. 6 (SO6) for the importation of 440,000 metric tons of refined sugar this year.

The SO6 did not bear the signature of President Marcos as chairman of the SRA board and Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary, but showed that the Office of the President received a copy.

The import order was signed by DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, acting SRA Administrator David John Alba and acting board members Ma. Mitzi Mangwag as millers’ representative and Pablo Luis Azcona as planters’ representative.

Based on the timeline set in the SO6, the arrival of the first 100,000 MT of sugar is as soon as possible. The next 100,000 MT shall arrive before April 1 and the 240,000-MT buffer stock would enter the country after April 1.

Once the first 100,000 MT arrives, the SRA will classify the shipment as reserves but immediately reclassify it for domestic use once necessary requirements and documentation are completed.

The second 100,000 MT will only be reclassified after securing the go-signal of the SRA board not earlier than March 30, the order read.

The SO6 will take effect three days from the SRA’s filing at the UP Law Center Office of the Office of the National Registrar yesterday.

Earlier, Azcona said the latest sugar import plan will address the shortfall in sugar production this crop year and help ease the still elevated retail prices of refined sugar.

The SRA board is projecting raw sugar production to reach 1.831 million MT this crop year 2022-2023.

The board previously pegged total raw sugar withdrawal to reach 2.03 million MT this year.

‘Corruption in imports’

In Bacolod City, the Save the Sugar Industry Movement (SAVE-SIM) quickly condemned what it tagged as corruption in the industry that is relevant to the importation of 440,000 MT of refined sugar.

Wennie Sancho, lead convenor of SAVE-SIM, warned that unscrupulous traders are in cahoots with corrupt government officials in undermining the interests of the sugar industry.

SAVE-SIM is an organization of several labor groups calling on the SRA and other regulatory agencies to investigate the corruption that happens in the facilitation of sugar importation in the country.

Sancho cited how Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, in his privilege speech last year, revealed that government officials facilitating sugar importation are receiving a kickback of P100 per bag of sugar from their selected importers.

If this were the case, he stressed that plunder and economic sabotage are being committed within the sugar industry by the supposed government regulators.

The group called on the SRA to protect the welfare of small farmers and producers of sugar in approving import permits and determining how much can be imported.

Sancho added that all interested stakeholders who want to trade should be given equal opportunity to import in the name of justice, fairness and equity.

“When the decision-making process in the importation of sugar is subverted so that power and influence in the sugar import business falls under the control of those who have no respect for the welfare of the stakeholders in the sugar industry, particularly the workers and the consumers, the system will become a tool for oppression and the promotion of selfish ambition,” he said.

Smuggling threat

Meanwhile, the Philippine Sugar Millers Association (PSMA) expressed concern over the reported 260 shipping containers loaded with sugar that arrived at the Port of Batangas last Feb. 9.

An unspecified volume of that shipment was allegedly released from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) without clearance from the SRA, making the imported sugar illegal.

“PSMA is highly concerned that the incident in Batangas is an existential threat to the sugar industry if no proper action is taken as it may lead to a deluge of unauthorized sugar imports,” it said.

The millers’ group called on the BOC to provide public updates on actions taken over the incident, noting that it is well aware of the established requirements and procedures on sugar importation.

Moreover, the PSMA said the Feb. 9 shipment could not have been part of the latest sugar import plan.

“At that time, SRA has not officially issued a sugar order on the guidelines, rules and procedures of the newly announced import program,” it said. – Gilbert Bayoran, Helen Flores