Sugar import liberalization now on hold, Zubiri says

November 26, 2019
Gilbert P. Bayoran (The Visayan Daily Star) |

MANILA - The proposed sugar import liberalization is now on hold, pending proposals from various sugar industry stakeholders on how to reform the industry, Senate majority floor leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

Zubiri, who met with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez and National Economic Development Authority chief Ernesto Pernia last week, said they have agreed to wait for the proposals of the sugar industry on how they will introduce reforms in the industry.

If there are no reforms, they will go back to their position of liberalizing the sugar importation, he said.

Dominguez disclosed during the weekend that mere deferment of the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry is not enough to address supply and price issues and should be accompanied by parallel reform measures.

While he supports a deferment, other industry reforms have to be pursued, particularly in addressing supply and production issues, Dominguez said.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on Agriculture, Zubiri and sugar industry leaders, as well representatives of the DTI, DOF, NEDA and Department of Agriculture, are going on a fact-finding mission to Thailand next month to observe their best practices in the production of sugar and related concerns.

Villar said they have to find out why Thailand produces sugar at half the price in the Philippines.

“In this age of liberalization, that is now happening all over the world, we have to be competitive and make reforms,” in order for sugar and rice farmers to survive, Villar stressed.

Villar added, "We cannot go on being protected by the government and resisting liberalization. Otherwise”, she added, “We will be sanctioned by the World Trade Organization and that will affect other industries."

Zubiri said that a sugar summit will be held in February, after a fact-finding mission in Thailand, to come up with proposals on how to make the sugar industry competitive.

He pointed out that there is a need for the sugar industry to come up with proposals "to help ease and mitigate the high prices of sugar for our local users."

"We have to strike a balance for our local industrial users because they complain of the high prices of domestic sugar," Zubiri said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also assured that the sugar industry "could count on the (support) of the Senate."

Negros Occidental Eugenio Jose Lacson yesterday led local government officials and various sugar industry sectors in thanking the Philippine Senate for their support to the sugar industry.

Tatak Kalamay, a multi-sectoral alliance, also thanked members of the Senate for unanimously supporting their plea to scrap the proposed liberalization of the sugar industry.

“If not for your timely intervention, the death of the sugar industry would have been imminent. Economic benefits from the sugar industry weakened, and most importantly the thrust of President Rodrigo Duterte in achieving full food self-sufficiency would have been naught,” Lacson added.

Aside from Villar and Zubiri, also present at the thanksgiving activity were Tatak Kalamay supporters, Senators Francis Tolentino, Ronald dela Rosa, Joel Villanueva and Nancy Binay, while Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, met with Negros Occidental officials at the Senate session hall.

With Lacson were Mayors Salvador Escalante – Cadiz City, Marxlen dela Cruz – Salvador Benedicto, Renato Gustilo – San Carlos City, Nicolas Yulo – Bago City, Dr. Jerson Tubillara – San Enrique, Jose Maria Alonso – Pontevedra, Irene Montilla – Isabela, Rhumyla Mangilimutan – La Castellana, Manuel Escalante – Manapla, Frederick Palanca – Victorias City, Evelio Leonardia – Bacolod City, Miguel Peña – Pulupandan, Enrique Miravalles – Valladolid, Richard Jaojoco – Toboso and Board Member Jose Benito Alonso, Victorias City Vice Mayor Jerry Jover and Talisay City Councilor Nilo Jesus Antonio Lizares III, and representatives of labor and agrarian reform organizations in the province.*