Unless Coca-Cola puts its commitment to buy more local sugar in writing, in the form of purchase orders, we cannot take its statement seriously.Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, said yesterday.
“Last year, Coke also assured sugar industry leaders that it would minimize its High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) importation and would buy a large volume of domestic sugar. The next thing we knew, Coke had imported 234,863 MT of HFCS as of September 2016, its largest importation in the past six years,” Rojas said.
Rojas was reacting to the statement of Coca-Cola Femsa that the company is willing to buy more local sugar for its soft drinks production after a 6-month period to be able to install new clarification equipment that would process raw sugar to syrup.
Coca-Cola's position was announced by Agriculture Secretary MannyPiñol on his Facebook page yesterday
Sugar industry stakeholders have been opposing the massive importation of HFCS by beverage firms that they say has driven down the price of domestic sugar.
In his FB post, Piñolsaid ”Nothing beats level-headedness and diplomatic negotiations”.
Piñol said lawyers Adel Tamano, vice president for corporate affairs, and Juan Lorenzo Tañada, legal and corporate director, of Coca Cola Femsa Philippines paid a call on him Thursday to inform him that the beverage firm has decided to spend "a few million dollars more" just to show to President RodyDuterte that it is willing to help the local sugar farmers.
Tamano said the decision was reached in consultation with Coca Cola Femsa General Manager Diego Granizo following a series of back channel negotiations between the company and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries secretary, who is also the chairman of the Sugar Regulatory Administration board.
He said Coca Cola Femsa Philippines will officially ask President Duterte, through the SRA, to give the company six months to be able to purchase the "clarification equipment" which is needed to process raw sugar into syrup.
"We will be spending a few million dollars more, but we are willing to make the sacrifice just to show to the President that the company is willing to help the sugar industry and Philippine Agriculture," Tañada said.
Piñol informed Tamano and Tañada that three senior Cabinet members of President Duterte– Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and himself as Agriculture Secretary – have agreed to recommend to the President that Sugar Order No. 3 issued by the SRA should be held in abeyance to allow Coca Cola and other beverage companies to make adjustments in their processing equipment.
Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola and other beverage companies have protested the immediate implementation of SO 3 which regulates and imposes stiff tariffs on imported High Fructose Corn Syrup used in the production of soft drinks and beverages. Coca Cola has filed a case for the nullification of the SO3 before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
The SRA order was issued in the face of plummeting prices of local sugar which dropped from P1,800 per 50-kilo bag to only P1,300.
Sugar farmers blamed this on the increased use by the beverage companies of HFCSthat is imported from China.
COLA IS STAND
Coca-Cola has maintained that the immediate implementation of SO3 will affect their operations, Piñol said.
Coca Cola reported that about 200 containers of HFCS are held in the different ports of the country and that it has slowed down its operations to ensure that the current HFCS inventory of the company will sustain their soft drinks production until the issue is resolved, Piñol said.
“Coca Cola executives have offered to withdraw the case but I told them to await first the official Presidential action on their request for a six-month grace period before withdrawing the case,” he added.
“The development Thursday proved me right in my contention that instead of forcing the issue on the regulated importation of HFCS, sugar industry stakeholders will benefit more if a dialogis held between them and the beverage companies,”Piñolalso said.
This would now mean that the beverage companies will slowly shift from the use of HFCS to local sugar, a move that would greatly benefit the sugar farmers of the country, he said.
“All's well that ends well and all that it takes is a high degree of maturity and cordial negotiations,” Piñol added.
Rojas said, “Definitely, we cannot trust Coke's statement,” however, in reaction to that,
How can Coke claim that it will buy domestic sugar, when it has already admitted that its plant equipment are designed for HFCS?Rojas asked
“For now, Sugar Order No. 3 is still in effect. The reported moratorium on its implementation is just a proposal. In other words, it is illegal for Coke to import and withdraw HFCS without SRA clearance. We in the Sugar Alliance remain vigilant that no HFCS is released toCoke,” he said.
Manuel Lamata, president of the United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, also said he hopes the news is true that Coke will buy domestic sugar.
“I hope the news is true because thoseFB news are coming from Coke. Guess we will just wait,” he said.
The senate hearing on the beverage firms' use of HFCS is set on April 10, Lamata said.
Former Negros Occidental Gov. Rafael Coscolluela said that is whatPiñol wanted in the first place, but the hardening of positions by some sectors in the sugar industry have made dialog and compromise difficult.
”The health issue against HFCS now needs to be resolved, and the debate can take a while. In the meantime, all that HFCS ordered by Coke will enter the market,” he said.
“Open and frank dialog is definitely called for at this time,” he said.*CPG
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